Legal drinking legislation is established in most countries as a way to protect young people from harming themselves and others. Young people are the most affected by high-risk drinking, and it is during this time that they will begin to experiment with alcohol. Due to the recklessness, inexperience and risk-taking behaviors, they can be exposed to dangerous situations that are out of their control. It is for these reasons that law makers have set guidelines to protect young people from the harm that alcohol can cause when they are at a very important developmental stage.
Worldwide, the legal consumption and purchasing age for alcohol ranges from 16 – 21 years of age:
* United States of America – 21 years old
* United Kingdom – 18 years old
* Australia – 18 years old
* New Zealand – 18 years old
* Canada – 19 years old with the exception of 18 years old in Quebec, Alberta and Manitoba
* Germany – 16 years old for beer & wine; 18 years old for spirits
* Italy – 16 years old
* Thailand – 20 years old
* South Africa – 18 years old
There are some countries that do not have a set drinking or consumption age for alcohol. These include Vietnam, Jamaica, Morocco and Fiji.
It is well known that youth drinking is a serious problem in communities around the world. Not only do younger drinkers engage in more risky activities but they also place themselves at risk of being involved in sexual assaults, criminal activities, dangerous driving and abuse. Younger drinkers tend to drink more alcohol in a binge fashion than those who are older. Binge drinking is especially dangerous to the body and can cause many serious health issues including alcohol poisoning and liver damage, and it may contribute to injury and death. Binge drinking is defined as the excessive consumption of alcohol over a short period of time with the intention of getting intoxicated. Many who drink alcohol in this way take advantage of reduced price drinks in hotels, at college bars and other cheap venues. They typically drink cocktails and shooter drinks in excess and suffer from severe intoxication and in some cases alcohol poisoning.
Between the ages of 13 and 25, many young people will begin to experiment with alcohol and other drugs. During this time, a person also undergoes many significant physiological and psychological changes that can be affected by the abuse of alcohol. In most cases, experimentation with alcohol is harmless. But in some cases, it can be disastrous and lead to unwanted pregnancies, social anxieties and depression. It can also impede brain development and contribute to an alcohol addiction. To counter the issues associated with youth drinking, governments set the drinking age to limit the age at which a person can purchase and consume alcohol. These laws also prohibit people under certain ages to go to bars, nightclubs or events that serve alcohol.
The United States is known to have the highest legal drinking and purchasing age in the Western World. Prior to 1984, the age of consumption and purchasing of alcohol was set by each state and varied from 18 -21 years old. In 1984, The United States federal government introduced National Minimum Drinking Age Act 1984. The legislation required that all states raise the drinking age to 21 prior to October 1986, or they would be penalized and have 10 percent of their federal highway funds. The government mandated the drinking age at 21 as a way to curb alcohol related fatalities that were staggeringly high amongst young drivers. Research at the time showed that the legislation had a positive impact on reducing alcohol-related fatalities on the road. There are some critics who believe that the drinking age has had little impact on crash statistics and that the high rates of accidents could be curbed by raising the minimum driving age which ranges from 14 to 16 for learner drivers at present.
The age of purchase and consumption is alcohol is often set at an age that is determined to be appropriate for a young person to experience the dangers associated with alcohol. Inexperience with alcohol can lead a person to become influenced or coerced into certain activities or behaviors. It is known to be a factor in sexual assaults and rape, antisocial behavior, drink driving, drug taking and violence. Being affected by alcohol can also contribute to an increase in violence, especially for young men who may become aggressive, paranoid or violent when drunk. This can cause physical, personal and financial problems for those involved.
Young people under 25 are often the most affected by high-risk drinking. It is between the ages of 15 to 25 that people begin to experiment with alcohol and drugs, but it is also the time that recklessness, inexperience and risk-taking can lead to the greatest harm. Young people are more impulsive than their older counterparts and will engage in unsafe and harmful drinking as a way to fit in with their peers, overcome social anxieties, boost confidence and have fun. Using alcohol in this way can lead to social and behavioral problems, increase the risk of injury or disease or contribute to fatal accidents or suicide.
Underage drinking is a serious problem for governments and law makers, and it is an issue that appears to be getting worse in recent years. In the United States alone, up to 5,000 people under the age of 21 die every year due to alcohol use. This includes deaths from suicide and driving under the influence of alcohol. Underage drinking is known to be a factor in the development of alcoholism, which is a deliberating and harmful illness.
There are a number of factors which may contribute to an underage person consuming alcohol, including peer pressure, experimentation, personality type, stress, depression, genetic or hereditary factors or antisocial behavior. Enforcing drinking laws can be difficult for police and relevant agencies, but they work hard to deter and discourage people under the set legal age from consuming alcohol to protect them from harm. By working in this way, it is hoped that young people will learn to say no to the temptation of alcohol before they are of an appropriate age.