Drinking alcohol is something that is often seen as a rite of passage. The older children get, the more they are likely to try drinking. Buying and consuming alcohol is legal for those age 21 and up, federally. Individually, states have laws regarding underage persons being able to consume alcohol in the presence of strictly their parents, with their parent’s permission.
Though other countries have younger drinking ages, from as low as 16 in Germany for wine and beer, there is a good reason to wait until the age of 21 to start drinking. Drinking before the brain is fully developed can impact the growth and connections that the brain makes. The last part of the brain to fully develop is the frontal lobe. This part of the brain is in charge of decision making, understanding consequences, and emotional regulation.
Alcohol is a depressant, which means that it slows down physical and psychological activity. It also activates a neurotransmitter called GABA which slows everything down and relaxes us. But, alcohol is known to activate the entire rewards system, making it extremely addictive. With the rewards system being fully activated, it only encourages drinking more.
But what does all of this mean?
The combination of alcohols effect on the brain and the lack of development of the brain can make it hard for someone young to stop drinking, and can encourage bad decisions while drinking. Inhibiting the brain processes of an already underdeveloped brain makes decision making skills few and far between. Further, due to not being fully aware of or concerned with consequences can result in extreme risky behavior while drinking. This is commonly seen in the news, as seen with the Penn State hazing of Timothy Piazza. With all underage students drinking, the risky behavior was elevated and the decision making skills were decreased, as a result, no one called 911 and a life was lost.
Aside from just the effects on the brain, the earlier and more frequently a person is introduced to alcohol, the more likely they are to build up a tolerance. Tolerance means needing more alcohol to get a buzz or to feel tipsy or drunk, resulting in significant over drinking.
Drinking is not something that should be viewed as a rite of passage. The negative effects on the undeveloped brain can result in permanent damage and delays. The decisions made while drinking are irreversible, though these decisions are not always life or death, they can be. Before picking up that first drink as someone under 21, it is important to ask yourself if it is worth the experiment. The drinking age is 21 for a reason, and a good one at that.