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Ethics and Underage Drinking

Alcohol is the drug of choice among youth. Unfortunately, many young people are experiencing the consequences of drinking too much at too early an age. As a result, underage drinking is a leading public health problem in this country. Each year, approximately 5,000 young people under the age of 21 die due to underage drinking; this includes about 2,000 deaths from car crashes, 1,500 as a result of homicides, 300 from suicide, and hundreds more from other injuries such as falls, burns, and drownings. Yet drinking continues to be widespread among adolescents, as shown by nationwide surveys and studies in smaller populations. For example, according to data from a 2005 study, three-fourths of 12th graders, more than two-thirds of 10th graders, and about two in every five 8th graders have consumed alcohol. And when youth drink, they tend to drink intensively, often consuming four to five drinks at one time. Data also shows that 11 percent of 8th graders, 22 percent of 10th graders, and 29 percent of 12th graders had engaged in “binge” drinking within the past two weeks.

Research also shows that many adolescents start to drink at very young ages. In 2003, the average age of first alcohol use was about 14, compared to about 17 1/2 in 1965. People who reported starting to drink before the age of 15 were four times more likely to report meeting the criteria for alcohol dependence at some point in their lives. In fact, new research shows that serious drinking problems, including alcoholism, typically associated with middle age, begin to appear much earlier, during young adulthood and even adolescence. Other research shows that the younger children and adolescents are when they start to drink, the more likely they will engage in behaviors that harm themselves and others. For example, frequent binge drinkers are more likely to engage in risky behaviors, including using other drugs such as marijuana and cocaine, having sex with multiple partners, and failing classes in school.

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However, regarding whether underage drinking is an ethical issue, the debate, like most contemporary American ones, is split on a religious divide. Interestingly enough, the religious debate goes along with the categorical imperative argument than many other issues today. With the formulation “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law,” Being replaced with the St. Thomas of Aquinas principle that “civil law is an ordinance of reason for the common good, spread by him who has the care of the community.” However, this argument assumes that underage drinking is an attack against our country, for by violating the nation’s laws, you are, in fact, violating the nation. But, drinking laws are not always strongly enforced by authorities, which weakens the argument against drinking in the categorical imperative, even though it is believed that a boost of enforcement would cause fewer alcohol-related problems. Because underage drinking laws are not strongly enforced, it does not technically apply as an ethical generalization.

However, because of the number of social problems, negative impacts drinking has on an adolescent body, and a lack of responsibility held by some of my peers, underage drinking should not be done by anyone. There are many strong arguments as to why the legal drinking age should be rolled back to eighteen. For example, during prohibition, a similar problem and generalization arose; the officers who enforced prohibition often took a drink themselves, as can be witnessed in the film the Untouchables. Today, the ban against drinking is argued to not be a universal one due to the lack of enforcement. However, this should not serve as a reason to push back the drinking age. Another strong argument is that An 18-year-old in the United States of America has the right to vote and serve in the military. If an 18-year-old can make up their mind as to who the political leaders of their lives should be and whether or not they will defend their country (or serve as aggressors elsewhere in the world), they should have every right to consume alcohol.

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Another strong argument made against the current legal drinking age is that many colleges and universities often argue that the legal drinking age should be 18 because outlawing alcohol consumption in colleges for those under 21 is making the problem worse. These colleges and universities say that allowing alcohol consumption legally might help cut down alcohol-related deaths in colleges. However, abstaining from alcohol until 21 is not necessarily moral, nor is binge drinking every other week immoral? Yet, drinking underage disregards civil authority and undermines the law of the land. Granted that nearly every single case of someone drinking underage does it for social reasons and most times avoids drunkenness, it does not mean it is necessarily right to do so. When society makes a law such as the age at which one can vote, drive, or even drink, it is definitely arbitrary. But this does not always make it unjust.

There certainly are many people under the age of 21 who could probably drink safely, and there are those that argue that as we learn from our mistakes, we should have these mistakes happen earlier. But if we are to live in a successful democratic nation like the United States of America, how can we argue for the virtues of having a Natty Ice at 20 years old? Most of my peers would argue that the greater good comes above many things; I am simply arguing about drinking; it comes before freedom. It is time for responsible students to lead by example and refrain from drinking. Today, alcohol is widely available and aggressively promoted throughout society. And alcohol use continues to be regarded, by many people, as a normal part of growing up.  Yet underage drinking is dangerous, not only for the drinker but also for society, as evident by the number of alcohol-related car crashes, homicides, suicides, and other injuries. People who begin drinking early in life run the risk of developing serious alcohol problems, including alcoholism, later in life. They also are at greater risk for various negative consequences, including sexual activity and poor performance in school. But because it is the law of the land, everyone must follow it, no matter the level of responsibility the person has.

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Ethics and Underage Drinking. (2021, Aug 30). Retrieved October 5, 2022, from