Spirit Level

Currently you have to be over 18 to buy alcohol in the UK. Are there any benefits to lowering this age?


Lowering the purchasing age is a perfect opportunity to normalise buying alcohol in public places and change social attitudes amongst young people. (Photo: Lawrence K. Ho, Los Angeles Times)

Lowering the purchasing age is a perfect opportunity to normalise buying alcohol in public places and change social attitudes amongst young people. (Photo: Lawrence K. Ho, Los Angeles Times)

13,725: The total number of young people under the age of 18 admitted to hospital between 2011 and 2014 solely due to alcohol. With 492 people dying from alcohol poisoning in the UK in 2013, alcoholism is becoming an all too prominent issue. It is clear that we need to change the way our society views alcohol, and educates young people about its risks.

With alcoholism on the rise, the NHS estimate that just under one in ten (8.7 per cent) men and one in twenty (3.3 per cent) women in the UK show signs of alcohol dependence. Reforming attitudes is a vital step forward within society; Italy, Germany and Spain all illustrate different perspectives towards alcohol. These countries have a more relaxed view which allows younger people to develop a mature and responsible approach. This is reflected in lower rates of alcohol consumption disorders in Italy (one per cent), Germany (5.4 per cent), Spain (1.3 per cent) than the UK (11.1 per cent).

Undoubtedly, in the UK, the difference between the minimum age for buying alcohol and consuming alcohol is completely out-of-touch. The minimum age to buy alcohol is 18 years old, whereas the legal age to drink alcohol is five in private places and 16 with parental consent in licensed premises when accompanied with a meal. For this reason, young people often find it a struggle to get their hands on alcohol, promoting blatant binge-drinking when they are able to. At a young age this is not only damaging, but this attitude is one carried through into adulthood; long-term consequences, such as alcoholism and the development of unhealthy attitudes such as “wine o’clock” are disregarded by teenagers who are drinking “in the here and now”.

So, why are we pursuing this doctrine which reinforces poor habitual binge-drinking and immoderate alcohol consumption?

Recent studies have shown that consuming alcohol on a limited basis, for instance, having a couple of glasses of wine per week, can have positive long-term health benefits. Harvard researchers discovered that “moderate alcohol intake can improve blood flow, blood vessels’ lining function and reduce clotting”. Unfortunately, our moral conscience has been blurred where these positives from consumption in moderation have been lost in today’s wild drinking culture.

Alcohol plays a vital role in socialisation and the lifestyle of a young person. (Photo: Roger Cummins)

Alcohol plays a vital role in socialisation and the lifestyle of a young person. (Photo: Roger Cummins)

For the wider public, alcohol use outside can be a nuisance. If there was a safe environment where alcohol was controlled, imagine how the public would benefit. Consuming alcohol on the streets leads to vandalism, violence and sexual assault. Reducing the minimum purchasing age of alcohol would control this because socially, younger people would be able to drink on licensed premises without thinking of alcohol as a “stamp of honour”.

Fundamentally, the lowering of the alcohol age is primarily an issue based on the freedom to choose. One accepts that at sixteen years old an individual is wise enough to make rational choices about a plethora of options, from having sex legally to training to fight for their country. Surely, if individuals are capable of making these choices, there is no justifiable reason to deny them the right to choose whether to drink alcohol or not in the eyes of the law.

Evidently, before the age of 18, studies show around 65 per cent of teenagers have had at least one drink, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Regardless of whether this is on private property or publicly, the legal age should be reduced slightly so as to lower the vast age difference between the age to purchase alcohol (18 years old) and consumption age (5 years old at home). At the end of the day, why are we allowing young people to drink at home but not permitting them to buy alcohol? This only makes teenagers behave irresponsibly when they do manage to get their hands on the forbidden liquor.

Our attitude towards alcohol is not going to change on its own. The government needs to amend the old-fashioned laws which dictate today’s society to ensure that safety is prioritised, to create a more relaxed, realistic and sensible approach towards alcohol. In reality, our harmful attitudes, which have been inspired by the views of previous generations and our society, are at the centre of this issue, which can only be successfully tackled by lowering the purchasing age of alcohol.

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