The United States stands apart from other nations in many areas of government policy from its bicameral legislature to the right to bear arms.
One particular area that the United States differs in creates many more problems than it aims to solve: the legal drinking age.
In most other countries, the legal drinking age is the same age as when many other legal rights are obtained: at 18. In the United States, citizens are not legally allowed to drink until 21, despite the fact that many Americans move out and live on their own at 18.
The American college campus is notorious for being a place where heavy alcohol consumption is normalized and even encouraged in some circumstances. The problem comes with the ways that underage college students are driven to find a way to access alcohol to live up to their expectations of what college should be.
The primary way that most college students can access alcohol is through house parties and fraternity parties, both situations that the underage student attending the party has little agency over. In these circumstances, underage attendees are trusting their safety into the hands of people they usually don’t even know.
This situation often creates the feeling that you don’t know the next time you will be able to drink, which often leads to people drinking much past a healthy limit in an attempt to “make the most of the night.”
Instead of drinking in moderation, most people at these parties are drinking much more than is safe or healthy. This can have deadly consequences, as people attending parties with underage drinking are much more apprehensive about calling for medical help when someone near them is in an unsafe situation out of fear of legal repercussions.
Even if someone knows the signs of alcohol poisoning and the safest course of action to help the person affected, if that person is acting out of fear that they will receive negative repercussions for seeking help, it drastically reduces the chances that the person affected will receive the help they need in a timely manner.
Contrast this to young adults in other countries during their first or second year at university, where the experience is much safer and doesn’t rely on trusting random people that you don’t even know. Here, you are able to buy your own drinks legally, so you’re not confined to trying to get a drink at someone else’s party. You can casually have a drink with a friend on a Friday night at your apartment or out to dinner, rather than feeling like you have to drink as much as possible in order to fit in and be “cool.”
In addition to this lowering the risk for alcohol poisoning, people are not afraid to call for help if someone is displaying the symptoms, so someone affected by alcohol poisoning is more likely to receive medical help much quicker.
The disparity in the age that people move out for college and the age that they can legally drink in the United States leads to a drinking culture that rewards heavy drinking and discourages calling for medical help if someone drinks too much, starkly contrasting the goal of a higher drinking age.