What difference does it make if you are allowed to drink at 18 instead of at 21?

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“What difference does it make if you are allowed to drink at 18 instead of at 21?” Ensign, July 1974, 16–17

I am a resident of the state of Washington and there was a recent law proposed in our state that would lower the drinking age to 18. The Church spoke against the legislation. What difference does it make if you are allowed to drink at 18 instead of at 21?

Robert Backstein, attorney, Tacoma, Washington: As an attorney and a holder of the priesthood, I strongly opposed the proposition on a number of grounds—some societal, some spiritual.

First, it does make a difference if you are 18 or 21. It was Mark Twain who said how surprised he was that his father learned so much from the time Twain was 15 until he turned 21. The late teens are a time of growing maturity and judgment. A young man or young woman changes a great deal in just the three years between 18 and 21.

The percentage of teenagers who are involved in automobile accidents is much higher than the percentage of their older brothers and sisters who drive. As a lawyer and as a parent it seems safer to me for alcohol to be denied those who lack the experience and maturity years can bring.

Those reasons, however, are really unimportant when compared to the real reasons I oppose lowering the drinking age. My real reasons have been stated by Church leaders again and again for more than 50 years every time the question of the law and alcohol has come up.

From the time of prohibition the Church has opposed every law that made liquor easier for anyone to use at any age. The Church leaders opposed the repeal of prohibition, they have spoken against laws that would permit liquor by the drink, and they have discouraged action that would allow the sale of liquor to minors.

The logic of their arguments, which I fully support, is simple. The Lord has said that liquor is not good for man and that it is to be avoided. Experience tells us that an increase in the amount of alcoholic beverages available causes an increase in the problems that come with alcohol: drunkenness, automobile accidents, alcoholism, broken or unhappy homes, unfaithfulness, and unrighteousness in almost every form.

The Lord has spoken against alcohol from the earliest days of his church. However, the adversary will continue to try in every way possible to spread his destructive influence, and alcohol is one of the easiest ways.