504: Drinking Age

A Thousand Things to Talk About
504: Drinking Age

Do you think the drinking age should be lowered? Raised?

Full episode script

In 2014, the World Health Organization reported that, quote:

On average every person in the world aged 15 years or older drinks 6.2 litres of pure alcohol per year. But as less than half the population (38.3%) actually drinks alcohol, this means that those who do drink consume on average 17 litres of pure alcohol annually.


That report highlighted that some countries were taking steps to limit the health damage of alcohol, including raising the legal drinking age.


Worldwide, minimum legal drinking ages range from none at all to 21. Most counties that do allow alcohol consumption and have a minimum age for it set that age around 18 or 19. Two have an age between 10 and 15, and 12 have a legal age of 21.


In the United States, the minimum age of 21 happened not because of the inherent health risks of alcohol, but instead because of vehicle collisions. In the 70s and 80s, 16-to-20 year olds were the most common drunken drivers. After 1984, when the minimum age was raised to 21, that number did change. In fact, the number of fatal crashes involving a young driver dropped significantly, from 61% in 1982 to 31% in 1995.


But – that doesn’t mean that teens don’t drink. In fact, drinking under the age of 21 is largely done as illegal binge drinking, where alcohol can be the most dangerous. Some researchers say that this is likely because when teens do not see or have safe environments to experiment with alcohol, they rely on their similarly inexperienced peers, who don’t model great behavior. In fact, the way to decrease the deaths from teens driving – and teens drinking – may be counterintuitive. Quoted in CNN:


Abigail A. Baird, associate professor of psychology at Vassar College, argues that if anything, in terms of biology, the age limits on driving and drinking should be flipped.
“If I were queen for the day, I would move the drinking age to 18 and maybe not let them drive until they were 21, at least not with other people besides your parents in the car,” Baird said.

This script may vary from the actual episode transcript.