Should the drinking age be lowered?

The legal drinking age has been 21 nationwide since 1984, but several states have considered lowering the drinking age over recent years as an increasing number of politicians have spoken out to support reducing the legal drinking age to 18

Rise of the Issue

The legal drinking age in the United States has been 21 since it was imposed by federal law in 1984. The vast majority of Americans still support 21 as the legal drinking age. Yet, while the Center for Disease Control states it saves lives and protects the health of young people, an increasing number of politicians are voicing their support for lifting the federal minimum of 21. 

Supporters frame it both as a personal freedom issue, as well as an opportunity to remove the taboo of illegal drinking and create an environment of supervised, moderate drinking, which they believe would lead to less dangerous situations. Opponents are worried about the public health implications of such a move, the lack of maturity of those under 21, as well as a possible trickle down effect to an increasingly younger crowd.

Issue Timeline


Wisconsin Establishes Minimum Legal Drinking Age

The first state to set a minimum age for alcohol consumption, it required parental consent for anyone under 18 wanting to buy wine or liquor.


Congress Passed Volstead Act

It created the 18th amendment which prohibited the production and sale of alcohol, kicking off the era known as the Prohibition.

Mar. 1933

Prohibition Is Lifted

President Wilson signed the Cullen-Harrison Act - legalizing beer and wine with a 3.2 percent alcohol content.

Dec. 1933

The 21st Amendment Is Ratified

This amendment repealed the previously established 18th amendment.


Several States Lower Drinking Age to 18

After the Prohibition ended, most states set their drinking age at 21, but several changed the drinking age to match the voting age which was lowered to 18 in 1971.


Congress passes National Minimum Age Drinking Act

The bill requires that States prohibit persons under 21 years of age from buying alcoholic beverages or publicly possessing them.


Three States Propose Lowering Drinking Age

California, New Hampshire and Minnesota all had pending legislation to lower the drinking age to 18, but they did not pass.

Micro Issues



While one side argues 21 year olds are more mature than 18 year olds and thus more responsible when drinking alcohol, the other side points out that 18 year olds are considered adults for other purposes and assumed to be old enough to take on other important responsibilities.


Reducing the Taboo

The two sides differ on whether the illegality actually adds to the excitement of underage drinking, or if lowering the drinking age will just encourage even younger adults to drink.


Responsible Drinking

Opponents believe no one should be drinking under the age of 21, while supporters encourage moderate drinking under supervision to prevent binge drinking and unsafe behavior.

Pro Arguments


18-year olds are considered adults in the United States.

Some believe that since people stop being minors when they turn 18, they should also be able to make their own decisions when it comes to whether they want to consume alcohol or not.


Lowering the drinking age would decrease unsafe drinking.

Because 18 to 20 year olds cannot drink in licensed establishments, they often resort to doing it in private spaces without supervision - often increasing the likelihood of binge drinking and other unsafe activities.


Lowering the drinking age would decrease the taboo on alcohol.

Rather than maintaining the taboo and therefore excitement of (binge) drinking, lowering the drinking age would normalize alcohol consumption as something you do responsibly and in moderation.


It removes a barrier to seek medical attention for alcohol-related issues.

18 to 20 year olds who are in need of medical attention because they have had too much to drink, can be deterred from doing so because they are presently afraid of legal consequences.


A lower drinking age is better for the economy.

Since more people would be allowed to drink in bars and restaurants, it increases revenues for private business owners as well as tax revenue for the government.

Con Arguments


A person’s brain development can be affected by drinking alcohol.

An increasing amount of studies suggest that brain development is not finished until a person’s early to mid twenties - meaning drinking alcohol from age 18 can affect the brain while it is still developing.


Other activities are also restricted to higher ages than 18.

Adopting a child, and - in most states - gambling or purchasing a handgun - are also restricted to age 21 because of the risks and responsibilities involved.


It could give even younger Americans easier access to alcohol.

Those who can legally purchase alcohol, often also do so for their (slightly) younger peers. Lowering the drinking age could create a trickle down effect where 18 years olds buy alcohol for their high school or middle school friends.


People who start drinking younger, have a higher chance of using other drugs later in life.

Studies have shown a correlation between those who start drinking at a young age and those who turned to other substances later in life.


Drinking is not a fundamental right guaranteed in the Constitution.

Courts have ruled that drinking is not a fundamental right such as the right to vote - meaning that allowing drinking at any age is in fact a privilege.