Picture this: you’re at a party, wedding, or some sort of celebration, and you are finally twenty-one years old- the legal age in the United States to drink alcohol. You’re offered an alcoholic beverage and in your mind, it’s harmless. After all, the government must have made you wait twenty-one years for a reason, right? So, you happily accept, completely unaware of the severe damage to your brain that alcohol causes. It is common knowledge to most Americans now that currently, the legal drinking age for alcohol in the United States of America is twenty-one. However, they do not know that the consumption of alcohol at age twenty-one significantly affects various parts of the brain by interrupting its critical development stage, which is from ages eighteen to twenty-four. There is a genuine problem with the current legal drinking age being twenty-one in the United States, as it falls in the age interval for crucial brain development. The minimum legal drinking age in the US needs to be raised to age twenty-five to help prevent further damage to our current, and future, adolescents’ brains, as well as spread awareness that alcohol consumption before this age can be detrimental to the development of the brain.
Alcohol is a factor in the three leading causes of death among fifteen to twenty-four-year-olds. This includes accidents, homicides, and suicides. (Department of Transportation (US)). It is alarming that such an easily accessible substance can play a huge role in the death of adolescents. Notice the age range of this frightening statistic though- why from the age fifteen to twenty-four? Well, the term emerging adulthood is used to describe the crucial period of brain development, which is from the ages eighteen to twenty-four (Silveri 1). According to Dr. Silveri, “Brain maturation and associated improvements in decision making continue into the third decade of life, reaching a plateau within the period…”. Meaning, from the ages eighteen to twenty-four, our brain is evolving to its fullest potential. Disrupting this process could be detrimental and result in loss of cognitive abilities. As Dr. Silveri states, it must be kept in mind that, “…alcohol itself impairs judgment and decision making and that the impact of alcohol on learning and memory is greater prior to age 25”. Therefore, consumption of alcohol during the emerging adulthood period can be extremely detrimental to brain development. This information helps us to better understand why alcohol is a factor in so many deaths of people under the age of twenty-five. The human brain is easily diminished during this time of crucial development, so the consumption of alcohol in people under the age of twenty-five can cause them to make poor decisions, which can ultimately lead to death.
The consumption of alcohol in people before the age of twenty-five alters the development of the brain by damaging multiple areas of brain. Our brain has different lobes, or areas, that are each responsible for various functions. For example, the left side of our brain is responsible for abilities such as communication and learning. The right side of our brain is responsible for creative functions such as preforming music and creating art. In the middle of the two sides of our brain lies the corpus callosum. “The corpus callosum is responsible for attention processing, verbal memory, executive functioning, and several other cognitive functions…” (Dalal and Kar 3). These functions are vital for ever day living and are weakened when the corpus callosum is affected. According to Dr. Roebuck, et al., “… exposure to alcohol has a toxic effect on the corpus callosum, which leads to thinning and even agenesis of the corpus callosum.”. As a result, the harm to the corpus callosum from alcohol consumption in emerging adulthood adolescents severely damages the vital functions for ever day living previously mentioned. The consumption of alcohol is extremely toxic to our brain in general, but it has been proven to be even more so to those under the age of twenty-five.
Studies have shown grave damage to the brain from alcohol, specifically in those who consume it under the age of twenty-five. In a recent study where volunteers, under the age of twenty-five, were subjected to alcohol for a period, “It was found that the functional connectivity of the default mode network (DMN) and temporal fractal properties, which were responsible for personal identity and social behavior, were significantly affected.” (Dalal and Kar 3). The damage that was recorded in this study was shown to be permanent. As a result to this study, we can see how there are multiple areas of the brain that are significantly affected by alcohol and how the damage can be irreversible. Alcohol does not just impair one’s judgment temporarily as most adolescent may assume. What they do not realize is that it is affecting much more than what they can see and will have everlasting consequences.
In another study, done by Brown SA et al., of emerging adults, twenty-one to twenty-four years of age, and young adults, twenty-five to twenty-nine years of age, who consumed alcohol, the emerging adults demonstrated greater impairment in “…verbal memory (learning word lists) and ﬁgural memory compared to the older group.” (Dalal and Kar 3). This study helps show the difference that adding a few more years to the minimum legal drinking age could make because, it was shown that the effects of alcohol to people under twenty-five are significantly greater than those who are twenty-five and above. Let’s keep in mind that most college students are under the age twenty-five and according to Kim Fromme et al., “… 70% of college-enrolled youth report drinking alcohol on a monthly basis…”. This means we are simply allowing more than half of our current and future college students to struggle with verbal and figural memory by permitting alcohol consumption at the age of twenty-one. As Drew Saylor states, “Heavy alcohol use among college students is a serious public health concern and has led to tragic consequences for many young people, families, and communities.”. Thus, consenting emerging adults to drink alcohol at the age of twenty-one is a significant issue that needs to be addressed.
Based on the above cited studies it can be determined that alcohol damages the brain severely and its development to those who consume it before the age of twenty-five. Consequently, statistics show several vehicle accidents that are due to drunk drivers who were under the age of twenty-five. According to the United States Department of Transportation, “In 2014, there were 9,967 people killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes, an average of 1 alcohol-impaired-driving fatality every 53 minutes.”. Of these fatal accidents, the highest percentage of drunk drivers were between the ages of twenty-one to twenty-four. Notice that the age range again falls under the emerging adulthood period mentioned earlier. If the legal drinking age was raised to age twenty-five, these statistics could decrease significantly.
Some people may argue that these studies and statistics prove that consumption of alcohol at any age will affect the brain and lead to severe consequences no matter what. I would slightly agree with those who argue this, however, as Dr. Michael Windle states, “Adolescents and adults also differ in their sensitivity to the effects of alcohol.”. Meaning, it is important to remember that the most crucial period of brain development is during the emerging adulthood which is up until age twenty-five. Therefore, adolescents who consume alcohol are much more susceptible to detrimental effects to the brain than those who consume alcohol above the age of twenty-five. There is ultimately no escape from the damages alcohol causes to our brain, unless one completely refrains from drinking. So, a different proposal that includes banning alcohol completely may seem like a better solution; however, if we recall, the United States has tried to ban alcohol before in the past and it simply did not help. Now, despite the damages caused by alcohol, we can significantly decrease the consequences mentioned earlier in addition to protecting the development of our adolescents’ brains by raising the drinking age to twenty-five and by raising awareness.
Another conflicting opinion people may have with raising the drinking age to twenty-five is an increase in underage drinking. Today, the legal drinking age is twenty-one, but that doesn’t stop people under the age of twenty-one from drinking. Yes, it is understandable that if people don’t want to wait till the age twenty-one to drink now, then they most definitely won’t want to wait till the age twenty-five. According to Kim Fromme, et al., “…the act of rebellion against the law may contribute to excessive underage drinking.”. However, underage drinking is not a problem due to current laws, but more of a problem in result to lack of education. Our adolescents and even young adults are currently not informed about the affects alcohol has on their brain. In raising the legal drinking age, the government should also ensure awareness by providing education to young adults.
How can our government raise awareness of this critical issue to all Americans? The best place to begin would be in our nation’s schools, more specifically, high schools. Mandating a course that includes information about all alcohol and what consumption of it before the age twenty-five does to the brain would be extremely beneficial. To graduate high school, our adolescents would be required to learn all the frightening facts about alcohol consumption before the age twenty-five. This would not only spread awareness of this detrimental issue, but also could possibly lower the statistics of underage drinking. As mentioned, there is that rebellion feeling that consumes our adolescents, and ultimately persuades them to want to drink alcohol underage. Also, simple curiosity of what they are missing out on could cause an adolescent to want to drink before the legal age. Considering personal experience, when I was in high school I just wanted to know what all the hype was about. If I would have been informed of all the damages to my brain alcohol consumption was doing, my curiosity would have immediately vanished. Education on the affects alcohol consumption before the age of twenty-five has to the development of one’s brain could ultimately dismiss student’s curiosity and rebellion.
Now, people may believe that with the current drinking age being twenty-one, people are more likely to become susceptible to alcohol related problems, and raising the drinking age would just increase those odds. So, people argue that lowering the drinking age would be more beneficial. The comparison of European countries’ laws, culture, and statistics to our own country, is often used to help this argument. In Europe, the legal drinking age is sixteen and people believe that “…European countries are introduced to alcohol in a cultural context that reduces heavy and harmful drinking.” (Friese and Grube). Although this may make sense and be proven to help the prevention of heavy drinking in European countries, this does not consider the permanent effects of brain development alcohol can do at such an early age. So yes, lowering the drinking age could prevent binge drinking, but it will also result in destruction to adolescents’ brains, which could be nonreversible. A better solution, as mentioned, would be to simply inform our children rather than consenting them to drink alcohol.
Imagine a world where drivers feel safer on the roads, students perform better in school, and our nation continuously thrives! No more accidents cause by drunk drivers because people have waited to drink until their brain is more developed, causing them to drink responsibly and make better choices. Students with greater knowledge and abilities to learn due to lack of impairment to their brains from alcohol. Our nation completely aware of the detriments alcohol consumption before the age twenty-five does, and working together to prevent them! Raising the legal drinking age to twenty-five, as well as awareness, can provide all of this.
The human brain is powerful. It is a vital organ in our body and we depend on it for every second of our lives. If we do not change the legal drinking limit to twenty-five, more and more people will be damaging the crucial development of their brains dramatically without even knowing it. Fatal car accidents caused by drunk drivers will still be common, college students will continue to struggle with learning, and our nation will never solve the many problems caused by drinking at age twenty-one. By raising the legal drinking age to twenty-five, we make alcohol tougher to access and safer to consume. Most importantly, we raise awareness to all Americans about the severe damage alcohol causes our brains. This change alone will result in a much safer nation. Change begins with you, set an example for everyone, and refrain from drinking until age twenty-five.
Silveri, Marisa M. “Adolescent Brain Development and Underage Drinking in the United States: Identifying Risks of Alcohol Use in College Populations.” Harvard Review of Psychiatry (Taylor & Francis Ltd), vol. 20, no. 4, Jul/Aug2012, pp. 189-200. EBSCOhost, doi:10.3109/10673229.2012.714642.
Windle, Michael. “Drinking over the Lifespan: Focus on Early Adolescents and Youth.” Alcohol Research: Current Reviews, vol. 38, no. 1, Jan. 2016, pp. 95-101. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=115170586&site=ehost-live.
Department of Transportation (US), National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Traffic Safety Facts 2014 data: alcohol-impaired driving. Washington, DC: NHTSA; 2015 [cited 2016 Feb 5]. Available at URL: http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/812231.pdf.
Dalal, Pronob Kumar and Sujita Kumar Kar. “Impact of Alcohol on the Developing Brain.” International Journal of Nutrition, Pharmacology, Neurological Diseases, vol. 4, 2014 Supplement1, pp. S1-S5. EBSCOhost, doi:10.4103/2231-0738.147454S1.
Fromme, Kim, et al. “Turning 21 and the Associated Changes in Drinking and Driving After Drinking among College Students.” Journal of American College Health, vol. 59, no. 1, Jul/Aug2010, pp. 21-27. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=52617068&site=ehost-live.
Friese, Bettina and Grube, Joel. “Youth Drinking Rates and Problems: A Comparison of European Countries and the United States.” Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, 2005. http://resources.prev.org/documents/ESPAD.pdf
Saylor, Drew K. “Heavy Drinking on College Campuses: No Reason to Change Minimum Legal Drinking Age of 21.” Journal of American College Health, vol. 59, no. 4, Jan-Mar2011, pp. 330-333. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/07448481.2010.502193.