Many people have wondered why the national minimum drinking age is set at 21 years in the United States. Young Americans are able to drive, own a firearm and even serve in the military before they can legally purchase an alcoholic beverage. While this contrast might seem counterintuitive, our nation’s high minimum drinking age helps save thousands of lives each year.
The history of the legal drinking age
The national minimum drinking age has undergone quite a bit of change over the years. Once prohibition was repealed in 1933, the minimum drinking age was set by each state, and many states set the minimum to 21. However, during the 1960s and 1970s, many states, including Texas, lowered the drinking age to 18. Unfortunately, this change resulted in a drastic increase in traffic fatalities.
In response to the epidemic of alcohol-related traffic accidents, many states had restored the drinking age to 21 by the 1980s. Other states, such as Texas, resisted taking action. In 1984, the federal government passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, which withheld federal funds for highways from states that were reluctant to make the change. Texas adopted the minimum age of 21 in 1986, and all of the remaining states had followed suit by 1988.
High drinking age limits save lives
The high minimum age requirement mandated by the federal government was set with good cause. Research by the National Institute of Health has found that when people begin drinking at a younger age, they are at a significantly higher risk of traffic accidents than those that begin drinking later in life. Alcohol is a factor in more than two-thirds of traffic fatalities involving adolescents aged 16 to 20 years old. Those who drink before the age of 15 are seven times more likely to suffer a traffic collision in their lives than those who wait until they are 21.
After setting the legal drinking minimum to 21, the United States has seen alcohol-related traffic deaths reduce by half. In particular, the deaths of 16 to 20 year-olds has been decreased from 5,244 in 1982 to 1,987 in 2008, which is particularly impressive when considering the increase in population between those years. The lives saved can be directly attributed to the higher legal drinking age and zero-alcohol tolerance policies for adolescent drivers.
Early drinking can create dependence
Developing bad habits at a young age can have terrible repercussions for adults. Adolescents who begin drinking early in their lives are at an increased risk of alcohol addiction later on. People who begin drinking before the age of 15 are four times more likely to become alcoholics later in life than those who don’t start drinking until the age of 21 (National Health Institute, “Alcohol-Related Traffic Deaths”). The national drinking age helps reduce not only traffic accidents, but long-term alcohol problems as well.
If you believe that you have an issue with alcohol, it is important that you get the assistance you need. The Texas Substance Abuse Helpline is a terrific resource for people struggling to control alcohol addiction. Call us today at 866-971-2658 to find a qualified addiction treatment specialist ready to help you.