Would raising Australia’s minimum legal drinking age lower alcohol-related tragedies? Doctors, criminologists and an increasing number of the general population seem to think so.
A recent resurgence in a long-standing debate over Australia’s drinking age has resulted in passionate stances on either side of the issue. Though alcohol use has been legal for Aussies 18 and older since 1970, there are many who feel that raising the legal age back to 21 would positively benefit a host of alcohol-related ills, including road accidents, crime, and addiction.
Polls over the last decade have shown that public support for raising the minimum legal drinking age to 21 is growing, most likely as a result of greater understanding of the social impacts of alcohol abuse, and its potential for long-term, devastating effects on users and their families. Through years of treating people struggling with alcohol misuse, The Cabin Melbourne has seen the consequences of widespread alcohol abuse on Australians.
A Tale of Two Countries Lowering the Drinking Age
Before the late 1960s, the minimum legal drinking age in all Australian states was 21. In the 1970s, that regulation was amended across the country to lower the drinking age to 18. This was due in large part to the conscription of youth for service in the Vietnam War; the perspective at the time was that if a person was old enough to go to war, they should be old enough to drink as well.
A similar situation occurred in the United States, but with different end results. After the drinking age was lowered to 18 in the 1970s as a result of the Vietnam War draft, a push from the federal government in the 1980s led to all states reversing course and returning the legal minimum age to 21.
Licensed clinical psychologist Suzette Glasner-Edwards explained to Teen Vogue, “Research evidence after [the 1970s] strongly suggested that an increase in traffic accidents among young people was linked with this downward shift in the minimum legal drinking age. As a result, a citizens’ effort began prompting states to re-establish 21 as the minimum legal age.”
Drinking, Driving and the Age Debate
Getting behind the wheel after a few drinks continues to be a serious problem in Australia. Currently, 30% of fatal road accidents nationally are related to drink driving. Though research is still being conducted on the correlation between the legal drinking age and alcohol-related road accidents, nearly all studies suggest that a higher drinking age positively affects road safety.
Researcher Anne McCartt explained, “The public health benefits of a 21 drinking age are as clear as they possibly can be…Lowering the drinking age costs lives. Raising it saves lives. Too many scientific studies with too many consistent findings have been published to conclude otherwise.” Advocates for higher minimum legal drinking ages worldwide often point to this fact as a key motivation for policy change.
Raising the Age, Lowering the Risks
Alcohol has long been linked to harmful behaviours such as risky sexual encounters and physical violence. The potential for these behaviours to occur is even higher when people “drink to get drunk” or binge drink – a popular method of alcohol consumption among Aussie youth. For example, a survey of Australian 17-19 year olds on ‘Schoolies’ showed that “64% had consumed more than 10 drinks on a single occasion, and 18% displayed risky sexual behaviours.” Research shows that binge drinking is also associated with aggression and violence, with multiple studies confirming alcohol’s role in physical assaults.
Lowering the minimum legal drinking age below age 21 has been shown to result in increases in other alcohol-related social problems including suicide and youth crime. Dr Catherine Yelland, President of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians told ABC News, “Starting drinking at an early age is associated with more risk of harmful behaviours while the young person is drinking, and also long-term effects from lifelong harmful drinking.”
Alcohol and the Developing Brain
Further research on the human brain has shown that brain development continues until the mid-20s. Therefore, periods of heavy drinking during this time can have a permanent negative impact on brain development, and can predispose the consumer to alcohol addiction. Studies have recommended that people delay drinking for as long as possible in order to minimise potential impacts on brain development.
While people are generally aware of alcohol’s impacts on the liver, persistent, long-term alcohol use at any age can also have serious impacts on the brain. These can include:
- Memory loss
- Diminished problem-solving ability
- Inability to remember where things are
Fortunately, abstinence from alcohol can promote healing in the brain, and allow people in recovery to regain previously lost functions. There are many reasons to address problem drinking, with the positive implications for brain health at the forefront.
Regardless of Age, The Cabin Melbourne is Here to Help
No matter what the minimum legal drinking age is, alcohol misuse is a serious problem that requires professional treatment. At The Cabin Melbourne, we offer a world-class programme and years of experience working with people grappling with alcohol addiction.
Our conveniently located outpatient facility allows you to get the help you need while maintaining your regular work, school or family commitments. We have a team of highly qualified addiction specialists who are experienced in coaching people through the recovery process.
Our treatment programmes are designed to specifically address the needs of each individual client. We use an innovative and holistic Recovery Zones method that works not only on the addiction itself, but on the behaviours, thoughts, and emotions that lie at the root cause of it. This type of treatment boasts a 96% completion rate, helping clients reclaim a healthy, fulfilling life.
For those needing a more remote setting away from potential triggers, The Cabin Chiang Mai offers a secluded and beautiful residential treatment centre in the lush mountains of northern Thailand where clients can focus completely on their recovery with the benefit of 24-hour medical support.
There is no age limit on seeking help for alcohol addiction. If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol misuse, call The Cabin Melbourne today to learn more about how we can help.