You Can Go to War, But Can't Drink Alcohol

On February 21, 2012

Blood is dripping down their faces as they try to crawl through the sand. Shards of shrapnel grind against their skin as they try to claw over the dead bodies of their comrades, past blown-apart bodies and mutilated corpses. They're surrounded; they're losing too much blood. They know it's all over even before the enemy solider steps in front of them.

At 18 years old, there are American citizens overseas old enough to die for their country. At 18 years old, Americans are considered legal adults who can buy pornography and act in pornography. At 18 years old, Americans have the power to vote for a presidential candidate that can alter the course of history. At 18 years old, Americans can serve on juries where they hold the power of life or death in their hands.

One thing American citizens cannot do when they're 18 years old, however, is drink legally.

Let's be honest: there aren't many people nowadays that can say they had their first taste of alcohol at the legal age of 21. All a person has to do is take a stroll on Main Street on a Friday night to see the hordes of teenagers that are not quite old enough, yet still drinking boxed wine out of water bottles or hiding 12 packs in their book bags.

Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 and the legal age for purchasing and publicly possessing alcoholic beverages changed to 21. Before this, states possessed the power to choose their own drinking age.

This doesn't stop people under the age of 21 from drinking, despite what your parents, guardians, or teachers tried to convince you in high school.

So why does the government even try?

One of the major reasons for the drinking age is the rate of drunk driving accidents that occur in the U.S.

"Moving the [minimum legal drinking age] to 21 has simply shifted the risk of fatal accidents from teens to young adults. No matter what the MLDA is, anyone can suffer the adverse effects of alcohol if they do not drink responsibly," according to

Drinking and driving is the most common defense for why the drinking age is 21. So it's perfectly acceptable to send a young man to war where he can kill others, but if he has the privilege to drink, you're scared that there's a chance he could drive and kill others?

Don't misconstrue the point of this opinion column; it's never an option to drink and drive. Have a designated driver, call a cab, or even walk if you're too drunk to drive.

But why are we given the opportunity to die for our country, yet we don't have the pleasure of heading over to a local bar to grab a beer with friends?

"Many activities have ages of initiation," according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving ( "The age limit for alcohol is based on research which shows that young people react differently to alcohol. Teens get drunk twice as fast as adults, but have more trouble knowing when to stop. Teens naturally overdo it and binge more often than adults. Enforcing the legal drinking age of 21 reduces traffic crashes, protects young people's maturing brains, and keeps young people safer overall."

So MADD, you believe that 18 year olds have brains that are mature enough to go war, to enter marriage, to fulfill legal obligations like voting and jury duty, but not mature enough to drink?

Think back to your first conversation about alcohol. It probably went something like this:

"Don't ever drink alcohol until you're 21," said the adults.

"Why?" you asked.

"Because I said so," they responded.

Maybe it's the fact that you preach abstinence rather than education about drinking.

If you tell a teenager that binge drinking is going to result in puking all over your friend's car or a hangover that feels like a boulder is crushing your skull, maybe they'll listen more than if you just tell them not to do something.

It's the allure of doing the forbidden – drinking is something that gets you in serious trouble with your folks or the police if you are caught. And most high school kids want to be dangerous and badass. In high school, teenagers trekked one mile into the woods or braved walking on sand dunes just so they could drink a bottle of Mike's Hard Lemonade. They would ask that "cool kid" who was old enough to drink legally, but chose to drink with high school kids.

Alcohol flows more freely on college campuses. It surrounds students, and at UB all you have to do is walk around the University Heights and you'll more than likely find an open party. Just like the Prohibition forced people to drink in secret, so has the drinking age shift forced college students to drink at places like fraternity houses.

Do you really believe that having college students under 21 drinking in the smelly, dark basement of a fraternity house is safer than at a bar? Drink jungle juice and then get back to me.

Another thing UB students have is the perk of being close to a different country with a lower drinking age, so if they want to follow the law all they have to do is hop the border.

What is it between those 20-something miles that change a person so drastically that they go from too immature to handle their alcohol to being just mature enough?

It's the hypocrisy of the law. There is only a 20-minute drive that separates a 19-year-old from being able to legally drink in a bar from a 19-year-old getting arrested for underage drinking.

Nothing mentally changes in people within less than an hour. They don't suddenly increase maturity levels once they step on Canadian soil.

"Legal Age 21 has not worked. To be sure, drunk driving fatalities are lower now than they were in 1982. But they are lower in all age groups. And they have declined just as much in Canada, where the age is 18 or 19, as they have in the United States," said Morris E. Chafetz, MD, Founder of the National Institute for Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, on

Of course this isn't to say there are no dangers when it comes to drinking. There's drunk driving, there's having your stomach pumped because you don't know your limit, there's getting stitches because you're so lifeless your friend drops you. Alcohol is a drug and it should be treated with caution and responsibility.

The fact remains, though: if 18-year-olds can die for their country or choose the future of their country, they should be able to drink in their country.


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