Case closed: research evidence on the positive public health impact of the age 21 minimum legal drinking age in the United States

J Stud Alcohol Drugs Suppl. 2014:75 Suppl 17:108-15.


Objective: In 2006, the nonprofit organization Choose Responsibility called for repealing the 1984 National Minimum Drinking Age Act, which had led all 50 states to establish a minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) of 21 years, and allowing the states to lower their MLDA to 18 years. Two years later, the organization assembled a small group of college and university presidents (the Amethyst Initiative) to call publicly for a critical reexamination of the law. Public health and traffic safety experts responded to these efforts by generating new research on the age 21 MLDA, thus warranting an updated review of the literature.

Method: This review focuses primarily on research published since 2006, when Choose Responsibility began its public relations campaign to lower the MLDA.

Results: Recent research on the age 21 MLDA has reinforced the position that the current law has served the nation well by reducing alcohol-related traffic crashes and alcohol consumption among youths, while also protecting drinkers from long-term negative outcomes they might experience in adulthood, including alcohol and other drug dependence, adverse birth outcomes, and suicide and homicide.

Conclusions: The age 21 law saves lives and is unlikely to be overturned. College and university leaders need to put into effect workable policies, stricter enforcement, and other evidence-based prevention efforts that have been demonstrated to reduce underage drinking and alcohol-related problems on campus and are being applied successfully at prominent academic institutions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic / prevention & control
  • Accidents, Traffic / trends
  • Age Factors
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology*
  • Alcohol Drinking / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Alcohol Drinking / prevention & control
  • Biomedical Research* / trends
  • Humans
  • Public Health / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Public Health / trends
  • Students / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • United States
  • Universities / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Universities / trends