In the United States today, the legal drinking age is 21 years old. With that said, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, there are approximately 10.8 million underage drinkers in the United States and 70% of young people engage in binge drinking by the ages of 19 and 20 (EdgarSnyder.com). Additionally, from the age of 13 to the age of 21, the number of individuals who admit to binge drinking increases from about 1% to 50% (EdgarSnyder.com). Evidently, the number of individuals who engage in drinking illegally is incredibly high, which forces us to question whether or not we have a standing moral obligation to obey the law. If it is the case that we are morally obligated to follow the law, why is underage drinking so prevalent in our society and furthermore, who is to blame for the large number of legal violations?
In a CNN report, Allison Gilbert explores the idea of underage drinking and whether there is ever a time it is okay. According to the U.S. government, underage drinking is never acceptable, however, on average, most parents and college students feel quite differently. Even at Vanderbilt, where the staff and faculty are focused on the health and safety of the student body, underage drinking is exceptionally prevalent. Despite ongoing efforts to minimize underage drinking on campus, many students admit to underage drinking at not only off campus events, but Vanderbilt sponsored events as well. Furthermore, students admit to drinking under age without feeling a sense of moral wrongdoing. Should students feel guilty about drinking underage? Is the legal violation of drinking underage a moral problem in our society?
Ultimately, stating that an individual has violated the law does not automatically indicate that the individual has acted immorally. While our legal system does exist to maintain a sense of moral order and ensure security in society, there are definitely some instances where illegality does not necessarily assume immorality. However, is underage drinking one of these instances? According to the NIAAA, “every year nearly 2,000 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related injuries” (Gilbert). After reading this statistic and understanding the severe consequences of underage drinking, should we judge illegally drinking as a moral problem?
Suppose for a minute that you get a parking ticket for not putting enough money in a metered spot. Your parking ticket is a sign that you have violated the law, however, if you truly forgot about your meter while at dinner with friends, have you acted immorally? Undoubtedly, most would argue no, which is why it is fair to state that not all legal violations are moral wrongdoings. In this instance with the parking ticket, no one was hurt and there were no severe consequences of leaving your car parked in the spot for a longer amount of time. Nonetheless, in regards to underage drinking, there are constantly reports demonstrating the consequences, whether they are severe injuries or fatalities. If the consequences are so great, would it not be fair to argue that underage drinking is a moral problem in our society because so many lives are being threatened or harmed? Perhaps those who engage in underage drinking do not view their actions as immoral simply because the consequences are not considered. Whether or not you support the amount of drinking that occurs on college campuses, it is fairly obvious that part of the college culture is drinking and partying. As a result, it is inevitable that underage drinking will exist, and since students themselves do not think about the greater harm of their actions, to them, they have not acted immorally. With that said, perhaps students and parents would feel differently about underage drinking after thinking about the greater picture of the unlawful act.
In the end, it is apparent that there are many situations in our society where it is questionable as to whether or not a legal violation is automatically a moral wrongdoing. In the case with underage drinking, it seems that drinking illegally is a moral wrongdoing in the sense that so many people are being harmed. However, just like the parking ticket example, many people do not think about the greater consequences of drinking underage and engage in illegal drinking simply because it is a part of the college culture, and in this instance, it does not seem that violating the law is directly correlated with a moral wrongdoing. Nonetheless, individuals should be wary of violating laws even if they seem trivial because although some instances clearly exhibit that illegality does not mean immorality, our legal system’s overall goal is to keep all citizens secure and maintain order. Therefore, even the most inconsequential unlawful act can lead to greater harm if too many people start to think in that way, which ultimately, is dangerous for our society as a whole.