Why is Twenty-one the Legal Drinking Age?

By:  Cassandra Laymon, CFP®, MBA

Tis’ the season for proms and graduation parties, which will soon lead to Memorial Day and Fourth of July parties.  While I love the warmer weather and the end of school, I have learned that this is a season where parents are tempted to let their underage kids drink because “It’s a celebration!” There are many parents who believe that if a parent is present, it’s ok to let kids (and their friends) drink.

While I have no problem being the “bad guy” in terms of not allowing my 18-year old son to attend parties where kids are drinking, I hate being put in that situation. Why can’t all the parents agree to follow the law and keep adult beverages out of the equation for teenagers?

My frustration led me to research the facts on teens and drinking.  This one is a showstopper:

Ninety-five percent of the 14 million people who are alcohol dependent began drinking before the legal age of 21. 1

It’s clear from this statistic that underage drinking is one trait that is commonly shared by people who are addicted to alcohol. That, in itself, should give parents pause about allowing their teenagers to drink.

What’s so magic about the age of 21?

There is a popular argument that says, “If you can vote and go to war at age 18, you should be able to drink at age 18.”  I was interested to learn that the legal age of 21 is based on research that showed that alcohol affects brain development in younger people. In fact:

Teens get drunk twice as fast as adults, but have more trouble knowing when to stop. Teens naturally overdo it and binge more often than adults. 2

There’s plenty of research that shows that young people’s brains keep developing well into their 20s. It’s not a surprise that alcohol can alter this development, potentially affecting both brain structure and function. This may cause cognitive or learning problems and/or make the brain more prone to alcohol dependence. This is especially a risk when people start drinking young and drink heavily. 3

I think we can all agree that we are much better decision-makers now than we were in our 20’s. Alcohol impairs the judgment of an undeveloped brain, causing teenagers to take additional risks. In 2011 alone, about 188,000 people under age 21 visited an emergency room for alcohol-related injuries. 4

And, it seems we now hear regular reports on the news about drinking leading to poor decisions about engaging in risky behavior, including drinking and driving, sexual activity (such as unprotected sex), and aggressive or violent behavior. 5

Many of you, like me, may be saying, “I’m so grateful that my teenager doesn’t drink.” This fact was difficult for me to hear:

About one in seven teens binge-drink, yet only 1 in 100 parents believe his or her teen binge-drinks. 6

You may be wondering what kids and alcohol have to do with Biblically Responsible Investing. As you probably know, our goal is to avoid investing in alcohol-producing companies because the vast majority of their revenues are derived from people who are addicted. According to the statistics cited here, if your child starts drinking before the age of 21, he or she has a much greater chance of becoming an alcoholic. We want to protect your teenagers! Have a direct conversation with them and don’t allow them to drink before it’s legal.

If you are curious to know if you are investing in alcohol companies in your portfolio, we’d be happy to provide a complimentary screening of your portfolio. Just click here to get started!


1. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “Traffic Safety Facts 2013: Overview”. Washington DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2015. http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/812169.pdf National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “Traffic Safety Facts 2013: Young Drivers”. Washington DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2015. http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/812200.pdf

2. National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Statistics on Underage Drinking Read more


4. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. The DAWN Report: Highlights of the 2014 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) Findings on Drug-Related Emergency Department Visits. Rockville, MD: SAMHSA, 2014. Available at: http://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/spot143-underage-drinking-2014/spot143-underage-drinking-2014/spot143-underahttp://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/spot143-underage-drinking-2014/spot143-underage-drinking-2014/spot143-underage-drinking-2014.pdf.ge-drinking-2014.pdf.


6. Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2015). Behavioral health trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (HHS Publication No. SMA 15-4927, NSDUH Series H-50). http://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FRR1-2014/NSDUH-FRR1-2014.pdf


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