Underage Drinking Laws
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American underage drinking laws date back to around 1934, the year after Prohibition was repealed. National alcohol Prohibition in America lasted from 1919 to 1933, after which individual states were allowed to draft their own laws regulating alcohol. Most all states enacted a minimum legal drinking age at the time, 21 being standard. This restriction remained unchanged for decades until, during the 1960s and 1970s, states began relaxing the restrictions. This was a period when the age requirement for voting was being lowered from 21 as well. Some states set the minimum drinking age as low as 18.
Over the following years, researchers monitoring motor vehicle safety found a significant increase in vehicle fatalities and injuries in states that had lowered the drinking age. A coalition of interest groups including Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) pressured states to raise the age limit back to 21. In 1984 the Uniform Drinking Age Act virtually mandated that all states institute a minimum legal drinking age of 21. Technically this is not a federally mandated limit; the federal law is directed not at individuals but at states, withholding federal highway funding for noncompliance.
Although underage drinking is common, studies suggest that drinking age limits do in fact reduce the average amount of alcohol consumed by underage persons as well as their rate of injury. Most European countries allow drinking at earlier ages with no corresponding increase in injuries, yet this is probably explained by the considerably lower number of young people who drive; the age requirement for driving licensure is higher, and Europeans are more reliant on public transit. Despite regular criticism, in the near future it is unlikely there will be any significant modification of American underage drinking laws.
Scholars examining the problems that arise in the context of underaged drinking on campus assert that there are a host of issues involved when students can access alcohol on campus.
- Felonies that involve Underage drinking
- Binge drinking
- Rowdy behavior associated with drinking
- The issue of violence as a direct result of drinking
- Drinking can be an antecedent of physical altercations, including rape and sexual assault.
The harsh realities associated with alcohol consumption are quite substantial, especially in the context of the college campus environment. In an effort to address these issues, many college campuses have instituted outright bans on drinking for students on campus. On campuses that have not instituted outright bans, programs to educate students about the dangers of alcohol consumption have been created. Although these programs aim to reduce the incidence of problems associated with drinking on campus, for the most part it is unclear if these programs provide the support needed to achieve this end. For college campuses that have not instituted an outright ban on alcohol consumption on campus, there appears to be an substantial awareness that banning drinking on campus leads to other problems that can be more difficult for college officials to resolve.