Debate on Raising the Legal Drinking Age: Pros and Cons

Teen girl with bicycle

In the United States all 50 states have the minimum drinking age set at 21, the highest in the world. Many European countries have the minimum set at 18. Over the past several years, many studies have been conducted to study whether the drinking age should be lowered or raised.

Many in support of raising the drinking age, say it should be raised to 25 based on a person’s lack of physical maturity, brain and nervous system continued development, and the impact drugs and alcohol has on the body prior to the age of 25.

Pros and Cons of Minimum Drinking Age

Those who support lowering the minimum drinking age argue that so far the age has not stopped teen drinking and has instead, increased underage binge drinking which can lead to more health and life threatening issues. Those who are opposed to lowering the minimum drinking age say that adolescents have not yet reached the age where alcohol can be handled responsible and are more likely to harm or kill themselves or others prior to age 21.

This group argues that traffic fatalities decrease when the minimum drinking age is increased. Studies report that a person’s brain is not fully developed until age 25 and can show negative effects of alcohol consumption until the age of 25, especially between the ages of 18-25.

Studies from Harvard, Northwestern University, and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee showed that young adults who had taken various amounts of marijuana, showed abnormalities such as cognitive decline, poor attention, and memory and decreased IQ for those that used at least 1x per week.

Understanding Potential Outcomes

So should the legal drinking age be raised to 25, or lowered to 18? Given the science on the physical and neurodevelopment of individuals between the ages of 18-25 there needs to be more informed conversation around legislation and possible changes to drinking laws. Teens, adolescents and young adults need to be educated on drugs and alcohol as well as effects of taking substances.

In 2001, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reviewed 33 studies and found that 10-16% changes in outcomes for drivers 18-20 years old where crashes involved alcohol. Crashes increased when the drinking age was lowered, and declined when the drinking age was raised. Additionally, a poll conducted by National Insurance reported that 79% of members stated that teen drinking contributes to drunk driving crashes.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (who adopted 21 policies in all 50 states to reduce alcohol related driving) reported to have saved more than 26,000 lives since the 1970’s including over 4.441 in the past 5 years. According to the University of Minnesota who reviewed over 57 studies, found that older drinking ages were associated with lower crash rates.

Depressed Teen-Teen Suicide & The Warning SignsStates saw a 59% decline in drinking in 1985 compared to a 40% drinking rate in 1991 between people’s aged 18-20 years old. Those aged 21-25 years also saw a decline when states adopted the minimum drinking age of 21, from 70% in 1985 to 56% in 1991. Excessive drinking contributes to more than 4,300 deaths among people below the age of 21 each year in the United States and costs the economy 24 billion dollars annually.

Approximately 189,000 ER visits were by those under 21 for injuries and related conditions due to alcohol in 2010 and more than 90% of alcohol consumed by those under the age of 21 is binge drinkers. In 2015 a Youth Risk Behavior Survey administered to high school students found that in the past 30 days of taking the test that 8% had driven with alcohol and 20% rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol. It also found that 33% drank alcohol and 18% binge drank.

Taking a Closer Look At Legislation

Legislation in New Hampshire, and Minnesota is considering that those 18 years and older can consume wine and beer (not liquor) in a public, commercial establishment as long as they are accompanied by a person who is 21 years or older.

In California, a legislation is being considered that would lower the drinking age to 18. Even though these three states are considering change, only 25% of the United Sates supports a national lowered drinking age. According to Chuck Hurley of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) says that answer is not to lower the drinking age to 18. He states that if this was done that it would increase the availability to alcohol of those at ages younger than 18.

John McCardell, former President of Middlebury College in Vermont, is a strong supporter of lowering the drinking age. He states that lowering the drinking age includes alcohol education, like driving education.

Alcohol education that is mandatory in all high school classes that would include chemistry of alcohol, physical consequences of abuse, and sitting on Alcoholic Anonymous sessions. Education and social responsibility would also include passing an exam to obtain a license to drink.

Dwight Heath, a Professor at Brown University states that he feels the drinking age should be lowered to pre-teen, comparing European/cultural model stating that parents serve small amounts of wine to children at meals. He states that it takes the allure out of drinking, that if alcohol is banned until age 21, it is something to be desired and a ‘rite of passage.’

Teen walking Overall, the debate on raising or lowering the alcohol drinking age is a hot debate in American. Many opponents say that individuals are unable to manage alcohol responsibly on a social and cognitive level until age 25.

Those in favor or lowering the drinking age say that it will lower the alcohol related crashes. Either direction, more education and/or awareness are needed among all populations to further understand the effects of it.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What are you in support of?  Lowering or Raising the drinking age and why?

Image of Libby Lyons and familyAbout the Author: Libby Lyons, MSW, LCSW, CEDS, is a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist (CEDS) who works with individuals and families in the area of eating disorders. Mrs. Lyons works in the metropolitan St. Louis area and has been practicing in the field for 11 years. Libby is also trained in Family Based Therapy (FBT) to work with children-young adults to treat eating disorders. Mrs. Lyons has prior experience working with the United States Air Force, Saint Louis University, Operating Officer of a Private Practice, and currently works with both Saint Louis Behavioral Medicine Institute within their Eating Disorders Program and Fontbonne University


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The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on November 12, 2016
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About Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Jacquelyn Ekern founded Addiction Hope in January, 2013, after experiencing years of inquiries for addiction help by visitors to our well regarded sister site, Eating Disorder Hope. Many of the eating disorder sufferers that contact Eating Disorder Hope also had a co-occurring issue of addiction to alcohol, drugs, and process addictions.