The US should lower the legal drinking age to 18
Debate Rounds (3)
Here I will make my points:
1. Lowering the legal drinking age to 18 would be medically dangerous
Alcohol consumption can interfere with development of the young adult brain's frontal lobes, essential for functions such as emotional regulation, planning, and organization. When alcohol consumption interferes with early adult brain development, the potential for chronic problems such as greater vulnerability to addiction, dangerous risk-taking behavior, reduced decision-making ability, memory loss, depression, violence, and suicide is greater.
Studies by the National Institute of Mental Health using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques show that the brain continues to grow and develop into young adulthood (at least to the mid-twenties). Thus, drinking at the age of 18 would cause potential harm to this stage of development.
2. It will allow a larger portion of the population to drink in bars and nightclubs, which are not safe environments.
Regarding crimes in bars, it is stated that "The overwhelming majority of attackers and victims are young men (18 to 29 years old). Many young men gather and drink alcohol to establish machismo, bond with one another, and compete for women"s attention. " (Marsh and Kibby)
Las Vegas, a city with many bars and nightclubs, has higher crime rates in every kind of crime when compared to the US average. The districts and streets where bars and nightclubs are located at have high crime rate as well compared to the rest of the city.
It is said and proved that economic conditions, such as unemployment is a root cause for crime. It has also been proved that a majority of drinkers are unemployed or are in poor economic conditions. Thus, it is safe to assume that bars or nightclubs are unsafe places as people will be at a higher risk of being a victim in those places.
Many rights in the United States are conferred on citizens at age 21 or older. A person cannot legally purchase a handgun, gamble in a casino (in most states), or adopt a child until age 21, rent a car (for most companies) at age 25, or run for President until age 35. Drinking should be similarly restricted due to the responsibility required to self and others. Drinking not only causes harm if an addiction grows but also interferes with logical thinking and may worsen relationships or cause loss of ability to handle emotions. Drinking alcohol can affect our judgement and reasoning, slow down our reaction, upset our sense of balance and coordination, impair our vision and hearing, as well as make us lose concentration and feel drowsy.
4. The current age limit reduces traffic accidents and fatalities
Studies of the legal drinking age and traffic accidents found that higher legal drinking ages are associated with lower rates of traffic accidents. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimated that MLDA 21 decreased the number of fatal traffic accidents for 18- to 20-year-olds by 13% and saved approximately 27,052 lives from 1975-2008.
Drink-drive accidents account for 16% of road deaths in the UK, while in Japan, where the legal drinking age is 20, drink-drive accidents only account for less than 10% of road deaths. (The number of road deaths is also extremely small, being 4403.) Concerning Morocco, where the legal drinking age is 17, road crashes in 2009 caused the deaths of 3,946 people and wounded 103,180 persons. On average, 10 people die in traffic accidents and 200 others are injured by road accidents every day. This is cited from information provided by the Moroccan Ministry of Equipment and Transport.
Alcohol has been repeatedly proven to be an important factor in road safety, which is why drink-driving is illegal. A study by the Department of Transportation in Japan showed that 58,421 male drivers were involved in traffic accidents during the 10-year study period, and that 271 of these were killed as a result of the accident. Alcohol use was significantly associated with speed, seat belt use, time, and road form. Among male motorcar drivers, the odds ratio of alcohol use before driving, after adjusting for age, calendar year, time, and road form, was 4.08 (95% confidence interval, 3.08"5.40), which means that about 75% of fatalities (attributable risk percent among exposed) might have been prevented if drivers had not drunk before driving. It was concluded that alcohol use before driving resulted in a 4.08-fold increase in the risk of death in a traffic accident. It is suggested that alcohol use is considered an important risk factor for fatality in traffic accidents.
The more people who can legally drink and buy alcoholic drinks, the more drink-drivers there will be.
5. The current age limit promotes a healthier population
In a 2002 meta-study, it was found that higher legal drinking ages were associated with lower alcohol consumption. In 2009, the NHTSA found that the percentage of weekend nighttime drivers with a blood-alcohol concentration of .08 or higher declined from 5.4% in 1986 (after the MLDA was raised to 21) to 2.2% in 2007. Less alcohol consumption, better health, thus less drinkers, healthier population.
6. Lowering the limit would give more underage drinkers the chance to drink
It has been proved that newly-legal drinkers often purchase alcohol for their underage peers, creating a "trickle-down" effect. Surveys show that the most common source of alcohol among 18- to 20-year olds is their 21- to 24-year-old peers.
7. Lowering the limit will encourage use of drugs
A peer-reviewed study from the Journal of Studies of Alcohol and Drugs found that the younger a person begins to drink alcohol the more likely they will be to use drugs. Lowering the limit would increase the number of teens who drink and therefore the number of teens who use drugs.
"Youth Access to Alcohol," Alcohol Epidemiology Program at the University of Minnesota (accessed Mar. 22, 2012)
Patrick O'Malley and Alexander C. Wagenaar, "Minimum Drinking Age Laws: Effects on American Youth," Institute for Social Research, www.monitoringthefuture.org, 1990
Alexander C. Wagenaar and Traci L. Toomey, "Effects of Minimum Drinking Age Laws: Review and Analyses of the Literature from 1960 to 2000," Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 2002
Despite its illegality, people under 21 account for 17.5 percent of all alcohol consumption in the United States.  Ninety percent of that alcohol consumption is binge drinking.  Three-fourths of high school seniors manage to drink alcohol, despite its illegality. 
Because college students under 21 cannot legally buy alcohol once they leave their home, they are more likely to binge drink or "pre-game" before they go out.  In addition, because they cannot frequent legal establishments (like bars), college students (under 21) are more likely to consume alcohol in dangerous, unsupervised locations like fraternity houses.  Both factors contribute to rape and violence. Women who pre-drink by taking numerous shots in a row are more likely to black out or pass out, putting them at increased risk of rape. Additionally, fraternity houses are hotbeds for rape, with a woman being three times more likely to be raped in fraternity house than anywhere else on campus.  Yet, fraternities -- for many college students -- are the only practical source of alcohol because they cannot go to bars or clubs. In addition, studies have found that pre-gaming contributes to increased violence once people go out for the night.  People who pre-drink (and start the night very drunk) consume more alcohol over the course of the night and are more likely to get in fights than people who do not pre-drink.  Each year, 1,700 college students die from alcohol-related incidents, 599,000 more are injured, and 97,000 fall victim to alcohol-related sexual assault. 
The problems associated with illicit underage drinking on college campuses has led "130 exasperated college presidents, many from the country"s most prestigious institutions" to argue for the drinking age to be lowered to eighteen because the current drinking age has led to "a culture of dangerous, clandestine "binge-drinking" " often conducted off campus." 
John M. McCardell Jr., the former president of Middlebury College, has stated that years upon years of evidence has shown us that college students are not going to stop drinking.  As a result, we have two choices: (1) continue to punish students for underage drinking, driving it further underground, or (2) ensure that they have a safe environment in which they can drink and learn responsible behavior around alcohol.  The latter is obviously preferable.
Barrett Seaman, a veteran Time Magazine correspondent, explains a visit he had to McGill College in Canada, where the legal drinking age is 18.  He said that a lot of Americans are also enrolled there, and he wanted to see how different they acted at McGill versus an American university.  Seaman says, "I was really struck by the relative civility I found up at McGill. It just wasn"t a big deal. They could go down to the bars in Montreal and drink or go to the clubs or they could have a case of beer delivered to their dorm rooms. It was an open culture. The other piece that really struck me was that at McGill the students and faculty and other adults intermingled around alcohol, whereas in American universities and colleges, there was a total separation of adults from young people. I think the lack of somebody around to demonstrate moderate drinking, to just having a professor or parent or somebody around who could say, "I think three beers is enough. You"re beginning to act like a jerk." That sort of moderating behavior is totally absent. So here"s a whole generation of young people learning to drink from themselves, instead of from people who"ve had some experience with it." 
Anecdotally, I can also say that Stanford University has a much healthier approach to underage drinking. Because it is a private school, Stanford is granted some leeway to allow its underage students to drink on campus. In its dormitories, the Resident Advisors will often get kegs for their underage students and tell them that they can drink, as long as they do so openly (so the RA"s can supervise them) and come to the RA"s with any problems. In this way, Stanford allows older students to teach younger students responsible drinking behavior. This is how it should be nationwide.
Furthermore, allowing people to drink in bars instead of fraternity houses and not need to pre-drink will decrease rape. In the US, 26% of women in college will experience rape or sexual assault.  In contrast, the number in Canada is below 9%. 
== Rebuttal ==
R1) Medically dangerous
Heavy alcohol use in adults is also medically dangerous.  The problem is that underage individuals are *already* drinking now and doing so in an irresponsible manner, with 90% binge drinking. To the extent that lowering the drinking age would allow these individuals to drink more responsibly (e.g. pre-drink less) and in more responsible settings (e.g. bars, where a a bartender will cut you off, instead of a fraternity, where the bartender might try to get you to pass out and rape you), lowering the drinking age reduces the medical problems by teaching kids responsible drinking at a younger age. They"re going to drink anyway, the question is only in what setting.
Binge drinking behavior in the US currently peaks at age 21 and declines every year thereafter , suggesting that people start to become more responsible drinkers as soon as they can do so legally.
R2) Violence in bars
A 2002 meta-study found that the vast super-majority of studies found no relationship between lowering the drinking age and increased rates of violence or criminal activity by under-21-year-olds. 
Las Vegas has a lot of crime because -- besides Las Vegas casino owners -- a lot of its population is relatively poor. I can tell you anecdotally that "The Strip" (where all the bars are) is *much* safer than "off The Strip" (where the seedy motels are). A lot of people prey on tourists if they wander too far away from where all the security guards are (at the nice casinos).
My opponent claims that 18 is too young because you can"t gamble until age 21 (among other things). First, this isn"t true: the gambling age in most states is 18.  Second, you can *die* for your country in the military at age 18. You can leave your parents house and get married, have kids, rent your own place, move to a different country, take out a crushing amount of debt to start your own business or your education, etc. We trust 18-year-olds to be responsible in pretty much every other regard. There is no principled reason why the decision to drink is less momentous than the decision to get married or enter the military.
R4) Traffic fatalities
First, drunk driving fatalities were already decreasing long before the drinking age was lowered to 18 in 1984.  In fact, drunk driving fatalities have been falling since the 1970"s.  Among the reasons are: more awareness of the need for a designated driver (started by a very smart campaign by an individual who was well-connected in Hollywood and got the concept showcased on Cheers) and the installation of seatbelts and airbags in every car.  Considering that drunk driving fatalities were already falling before the adoption of the drinking age law *and* that drunk driving fatalities fell in *other countries* that did not lower their drinking ages, no correlation has ever been proven between a lower drinking age and reduced drunk driving fatalities. 
Second, my opponent must prove that drunk driving fatalities are more common in Europe and Canada because they have lower drinking ages.
The meta-study my opponent cites says, "The magnitude of effects of the age-21 policy . . . appear small."  His other point is subsumed under R4. Fewer people drive drunk because of public education campaigns and greater availability of alternatives. My opponent"s statistics here are for *all* drivers; why would the drinking age (of 21) reduce drunk driving among the 30-50 year-old demographic?
R6) Trickle down
At least in my experience, there"s a lot more social interaction in college between older and younger students than there is in high school, where each class year tends to keep to themselves. The social connections are just not there. Furthermore, high school age students are heavily supervised by parents, and it"s hard to even find a *place* where they can drink. Lastly, if they really wanted to drink, fake ID"s can be purchased easily online [see, e.g., http://www.reallygoodfakes.com...]. My opponent fails to quantify how much more underage drinking this would encourage.
R7) Drug use
Correlation is not causation. The personality of the risk-seeker co-correlates with a lot of risky behavior. Furthermore, the study my opponent cites says that *now* (when underage drinking is illegal), underage drinking correlates with drug use. This is because kids who manage to break the law at 18 and get access to alcohol lose respect for the law and wonder what other "illegal" things are worth trying. Furthermore, does "drugs" mean marijuana (which is less harmful than alcohol) or cocaine/heroin? Lastly, my opponent must show that drug use is more common among youth in countries where the drinking age is lower. Otherwise, he is merely engaging in fear-mongering.
 Wagenaar et al, "Effects of Minimum Drinking Age Laws: Review and Analyses of the Literature from 1960 to 2000," Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 2002.
 Asch et al, "Young Driver Fatalities: The Roles of Drinking Age and Drinking Experience," Southern Economic Journal, Oct. 1990
I think both of us have reached a consensus that drinking is a problem. However, I disagree with Pro in the context that lowering the drinking age is the solution.
Pro has stated that "ensure that they have a safe environment in which they can drink and learn responsible behavior around alcohol" is a preferable method compared to continuing to punish underage drinkers. This is a rather twisted way of "education". The fact that people do illegal things does not mean that said things should be legal. Underage alcohol consumption comes with many health risks which we all want to avoid. Apply the same concept to drugs. Preventing people from entering the black market is not an excuse for making drugs legal. In fact, lowering the legal drinking age to 18 will only give people the impression that it is okay to drink at 18, and thus encourage a larger proportion of the society to consume alcohol, which goes against promoting a healthy community.
Concerning the quote from Barrett Seaman, I believe that Pro's point is invalid. Pro quotes that "That sort of moderating behavior is totally absent. So here's a whole generation of young people learning to drink from themselves, instead of from people who've had some experience with it." However, Pro seems to have ignored the basic fact that those underage drinkers were drinking illegally according to current law. While it is true that if the drinkers were legally old enough to drink, they would less likely drink privately in what Pro says to be unsafe environments, it is also true that the same problem would occur with every single age. Should people stick to the law, they would have been able to drink, supervised by parents, older siblings or older friends, who "have had some experience with it". Concerning civility and "mingling", people socialise over many things such as sports. Alcohol isn't the only thing that keeps relationships running.
Concerning Pro's example of Stanford, I apply the same logic used in the previous point. Legal drinkers can drink openly under the supervision of adults or older friends. These people can teach new drinkers to drink responsibly. As long as there are responsible adults around, MLDA 21 is not a problem, and the point brought up by Pro is invalid, since then lowering the MLDA to 18 would not improve the situation.
Concerning decreasing chances of rape, this matter involves many factors such as location, quality of citizens and law enforcement. Pro has not proved that lower MLDAs directly cause lower rape rates.
Concerning Pro's Rebuttals:
1. Medically dangerous
While it is true that heavy alcohol use hurt people of any age, the matter is particularly serious for young adults (in early twenties) since it is in the early twenties that the brain completes a crucial step of development.
Concerning Pro's point about binge drinking decreasing after age 21, evidence is to the contrary. The highest frequency of binge drinking by age was reported by persons aged X05;65 years (5.5 episodes per month). Pro tries to state here that the MLDA should be lowered to 18 because people would then become responsible drinkers sooner. However, this would actually cause many other problems, such as serious injuries, impaired judgment (Drinking can cause kids, especially those who have not matured, i.e. those below 21 to make poor decisions, which can then result in risky behavior like drinking and driving, sexual activity, or violence) and brain development problems (Research shows that brain development continues well into a person"s twenties. Alcohol can affect this development, and contribute to a range of problems.) The impacts listed above are certainly no signs of responsibility.
2. Violence in bars
With this point I was merely trying to bring out the fact that bars are not the safe places for new, inexperienced and young drinkers to drink. At the higher age of 21, most people would have matured more and would be less likely to be affected by the negative aspects or drinking and going to nightclubs or bars.
Pro's point about military entrance age seems to be a special and isolated case. Military regulations are affected by many other factors such as the stability of the country and the need for soldiers in the country. For example, 12 year olds were drafted to fight in Germany around the end of WW2, because of the country's immense need of soldiers due to its impending doom. America needs soldiers and elite forces to fight in the war against terror, and so they have to start training soldiers early, when they are still at their physical peak.
4. I have already proved that drink driving fatalities are more common in places that have lower drinking ages by using Morocco and Japan as examples.
5. Due to critical brain development stage at early twenties, the MLDA should stay as it is so as to discourage those under 21 from drinking and harming their health. While my opponent says that this isn't working, it is merely a matter of law enforcement, and does not concern the law itself.
6. Pro here uses her own experience as evidence, which is not good proof as there is no way for me to determine whether or not it is the truth. Even so, evidence from such a narrow viewpoint cannot conclude a matter that involves a whole country or even countries. Concerning fake IDs, this again is a matter of law enforcement. Faking identities is a serious crime, and lowering the MLDA will do nothing to discourage it; it will only encourage those below 18 to get a fake ID as well, thus polluting younger minds. Upholding the law is the only way this can be stopped, or else the age range of those faking their identities will only shift down.
Secondly, the MLDA has nothing to do with lack of social interaction. Social isolation is cause by many problems such as physical, emotional, and intellectual disabilities. Psychologytoday.com cites "the longer work hours, the Internet, the ubiquitous iPod . . . and don't forget all the time spent sitting in traffic" as other causes.
7. When I mentioned drugs I was referring to all illegal drugs, be it cocaine, heroin or ecstasy. Here I will prove that drugs use is more common among youth in countries where the drinking age is lower. According to the Japanese health ministry in February, 0.4 percent of the Japanese population aged between 15 and 64 years old have tried stimulants at least once in their life. 1.2 percent of the Japanese population have tried marijuana once in their life. According to the UN, in the Philippines, adolescent drug use (under the tender age of 13) was at 11% (marijuana is 5.4%). Japan's MLDA is 20, while Philippines' is 18.
My opponent and I seem to agree that there needs to be *some* drinking age, we just disagree about where to draw the line. I argue that the line should be drawn at 18 because that"s when kids go to college, and a drinking age of 18 grants colleges more discretion to ensure that students are drinking in supervised and safe environments. In contrast, my opponent chooses the completely arbitrary age of 21.
My opponent talks about drugs, but that"s irrelevant to the debate. This isn"t a debate about drug legalization. There"s no "responsible" way to use heroin and no "irresponsible" way to use marijuana, so the analogy doesn"t even apply. Learning moderation is unique to the alcohol context.
My opponent loses by essentially conceding my Seaman evidence, which proves that college students *can* learn responsible drinking behavior in the right environment if the drinking age is lowered. McGill is in Canada, where the drinking age is 18; my opponent seems confused and thinks it"s in the US. Furthermore, he says people can drink with parents at 18, but that"s not a true legal drinking age of 21. He"s basically conceding that people *do* need to learn responsible drinking behavior from older people, but disagrees that peers, RA"s, and professors are a good group to learn from. The fact is that college students don"t respect their parents" views on alcohol: they think their parents are lame. They are only going to learn responsible behavior from peers and people they respect, in a "normal" drinking environment (not in their homes, under parental supervision).
My opponent also concedes my Stanford example, but then says that parents can teach children. However, the Stanford structure wouldn"t work under that framework. Parents do not live with their children in their dormitories, which is where they are going to consume alcohol. Only a structure that legalizes Stanford"s only semi-legal regime would help to impart more responsible drinking behavior upon college students. I don"t advocate merely lowering the drinking age, but also putting in place systems like those at Stanford and McGill that impart responsible drinking behavior. One hundred thirty college presidents agree with me because they want to adopt similar systems.
Lastly, my opponent cold concedes the rape argument. He merely says that rape is caused by other factors, but I provided a *link* between a higher drinking age and rape: women have to pre-drink (which causes them to black out) and can only "party" at fraternities, which are high-risk for rape. My opponent provides no other plausible explanation for why rapes on college campuses in Canada are nearly two-thirds lower. Americans and Canadians are not so different that it can be explained by culture. Reducing rapes by two-thirds is the biggest impact in this debate and is why you should vote Pro.
== Rebuttal ==
My opponent concedes that three-fourths of underage students drink now. He also concedes that almost one-fifth of all alcohol drinks consumed in the US is by underage people. The question is *not* whether they will drink, but *how* they will drink. Right now, 90% of them binge drink. My intervention can only hope to ameliorate this.
My opponent also concedes that only *heavy* drinking causes negative health effects. Light to moderate alcohol consumption actually has positive health effects, such as better memory in later life.  So the question is not whether young people will drink, but whether they will do it in a way that hurts their health, or doesn"t. Only interventions that teach more responsible drinking can solve this problem, so this point goes to Pro.
R2) Violence in bars
By conceding my meta-study that lowering the drinking age does not increase violence or criminality among youth, my opponent loses this point. I also turn this point with my study showing that pre-gaming culture leads to more violence, so any intervention that reduces pre-gaming culture reduces violence.
The US no longer *needs* 18-year-old soldiers. This isn"t WWII anymore. But at age 18, we still allow people to die for their country, get married, and take on crushing debt that could take a lifetime to pay off.  If we trust 18-year-olds enough as adults to do *these* things, then we should also trust them to drink alcohol. We shouldn"t infantilize them and pretend they are adults in some respects, but not in others. The age of 21 is arbitrary. There is no policy reason to choose this age over any other. On fairness grounds, you should vote Pro on this point alone. If you are old enough to die for your country, you are old enough to drink a beer.
Arguments in favor of reducing teenage pregnancy would not justify raising the age of consent to 21. The current drinking age implicates basic principles of autonomy.
R4) Traffic fatalities
My opponent drops my studies proving that drunk driving fatalities were *already* falling prior to the adoption of the drinking age and that *other countries* saw similar drops, despite not changing their drinking age laws. So he can"t hope to win this point.
His evidence from Japan and Morocco is inconclusive. The Morocco statistic was for *all* vehicle fatalities, not just drunk driving fatalities. The Japan statistic was that only 10% of traffic fatalities in Japan were due to drunk driving. But that could simply mean that for some reason, Japan has a lot more *non*-alcohol-related road fatalities (compared to other countries). The number of drunk driving fatalities per thousand residents is a better statistic for cross-country comparison, but Pro doesn"t provide this number. As further proof, 32% of all traffic fatalities in the US are caused by drunk driving.  Thus, even though our drinking age is one year *higher* than in Japan, we have a much larger percentage of drunk driving fatalities (compared to total vehicle fatalities) than Japan does. Either the *percentage* of fatalities due to drunk driving is a meaningless number, or the US-Japan comparison proves that a *lower* drinking age in Japan caused fewer alcohol-related fatalities.
Furthermore, my opponent never answers my objection that there is no evidence that there are more drunk driving fatalities (per thousand residents) in Canada and Europe, which have much lower drinking ages.
This argument is no different than "medically dangerous." Look to R1 for my response.
R6) Trickle down
There is reason to believe that alcohol won"t trickle down to lower-age high school students: they lack the "connections" to older students to convince them to buy them alcohol. Con dismisses my argument as merely anecdotal, but it"s not only based on my personal experience, but observing everyone at my high school: freshmen were not friends with seniors. Con doesn"t even attempt to claim that his own high school experience is any different, so mine is the only proof offered in this debate. Furthermore, he *drops* my argument that high school students (unlike college students) have nowhere to drink. There"s a reason that most high school drinking takes place at prom: it"s the only night where kids are away from their parents. And while fake ID"s are illegal, so is furnishing alcohol to a minor. If my opponent is suggesting that illegality is an effective deterrent, then 18-year-olds will be deterred from furnishing alcohol to minors (which is a rather serious offense, more serious currently than giving alcohol to someone *over* 18).
Con claims that his study didn"t include marijuana, but it did. The comparison to Japan is rather ridiculous. Marijuana is just not a popular drug there, considering only 1.2% have tried it *ever* in their lives. In the US, 32.8% of high school seniors have tried marijuana.  These cross-country comparisons simply don"t work.
Con concedes my "respect for the law" argument, which is a turn: people try drugs at young ages because alcohol is illegal, and they try that and wonder what other illegal things might not be as bad as society claims. Lowering the drinking age would therefore decrease drug use. He also drops that his correlation is merely due to a risk-taking personality, that marijuana constitutes most of the drug use in the study and marijuana is less bad than alcohol, and that there is no evidence that drug use is more rampant among youth in Canada or Europe where the drinking age is lower.
Thus, none of Con"s points survive scrutiny, whereas I prove that lowering the drinking age will promote more responsible drinking behavior and *significantly* reduce rape. This outweighs any of Pro"s speculative impacts, which do not bear up when looking to Canada or Europe. Vote Pro.
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