Latest Medical Evidence Shows Drinking Age Should Be 21

Media Release 7 February 2011
A new report examining the medical evidence argues that the drinking age should be raised to 21. 

The report “YOUNG PEOPLE AND ALCOHOL: What Does the Medical Evidence Tell Us About the Legal Drinking Age in New Zealand?” was commissioned by Family First NZ, and prepared by UK psychologist Dr Aric Sigman. Dr Sigman is a Fellow of the Society of Biology, an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, and a recipient of the Chartered Scientist Award from the Science Council. He recently addressed the European Parliament Working Group on the Quality of Childhood in the European Union in Brussels, and has visited NZ in 2004, 2007 and last year. 

Dr Sigman argues that alcohol policies and decisions about a legal drinking age should be firmly based on the health and well-being of New Zealand’s young people. 

“The effects of alcohol on the brains and bodies of young people in New Zealand are the same as they are on young people on the opposite side of the world. And the social consequences are also highly similar,” says Dr Sigman. 

Dr Sigman shows that a new generation of evidence from a wide variety of medical and biosciences including neurophysiology, genetics, neuropharmacology, molecular neurobiology, forensic pathology, toxicology, hepatology, teratology, epidemiology and developmental psychobiology have brought into sharp relief the full range of new found effects of alcohol on young people. 

“New medical evidence on accident probability, disease and brain development makes it absolutely clear that delaying the age at which teenagers and young people have easy access to alcohol will reduce the level of damage they and society suffer at the moment as well as contributing to their future health and well-being,” says Dr Sigman. 

Dr Sigman concludes that New Zealand would benefit from adopting a single legal drinking age of 21, even if this is difficult to enforce. 

“This will send an unambiguous message to young people and society about what is good for young people and will make it easier to exert authority over those of them who increasingly feel entitled to drink.” 

Family First is welcoming the report which will form part of their submission to the Justice and Electoral Select Committee considering the Alcohol Reform Bill. 

“This report provides compelling evidence that the politicians should immediately increase the drinking age to 21, not for political reasons, but in the best interests of our young people and society,” says Family First’s Bob McCoskrie.

The Full Report can be downloaded from


5 comments for “Latest Medical Evidence Shows Drinking Age Should Be 21

  1. 6 February 2011 at 11:41 am

    I’m not sure that the conclusion follows. This evidence may establish that people should not drink alcohol (or not ever drink it to excess) before age 21. It does not follow that the alcohol purchasing age should be 21. Perhaps setting it at 21 encourages more illegal behaviour, and riskier drinking by 18-20 year-olds? Perhaps more people die, and more people get alcohol-induced brain damage with a “drinking age” of 21. Or perhaps not.

    Evidence about what age it is safe to drink does not necessarily provide support for that being the drinking age. Evidence would show that 4 year-olds shouldn’t drink espresso, but the current lax laws around that seem to working absolutely fine.

    Evidence shows that when cyclists are involved in accidents with vehicles, they are likely to injure their brains. Because of this, we made helmet-wearing compulsory. However, basically no other country has followed us, because the evidence also shows that countries with compulsory helmet laws have less healthier children, fewer cyclists, and more cyclist/car accidents. People die because one type of study was focussed on while ignoring the other effects.

    Looking at the effect alcohol has on brain development is one factor to be taken into account. Another factor to take into account is the effect of raising the drinking age on alcohol use. If raising the drinking age means more 18-20 year olds behave in even riskier behaviour, and become more likely to be injured, or brain damaged, why would you support it?

  2. Bob
    6 February 2011 at 1:04 pm

    Because it’s worked in the US which has a state-wide drinking age of 21.

  3. natalie
    6 February 2011 at 2:35 pm

    I agree, but we must remember way back after having a meeting with Dr Lynda Scott and addressing many concerns about the option of lowering the age and after pointing out more addiction, more unplanned babies, more sexually transmitted diseases, more drugs and on and on I could go…Dr Lynda Scott ( National Party ) said to me “we need the young vote”
    And yes what concerned me is happening and we are powerless to people that are more interested in being voted in by our under 21 year olds that want this and it is at a great cost to our young and our community spirit, very soul destroying.We must make a stand for our young voters and not allow a party to be voted in that will not change this law………SAVE OUR YOUNG, SAVE OUR COUNTRY…YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE.
    How can we be silent when our young are killing themselves with booze!

  4. 6 February 2011 at 3:15 pm

    Only 7 states (or 14? my references are a little dated) in the US (plus DC) have the age set at a hard-21. Most permit youth drinking either in private, or with a guardian or family exception, or in private clubs etc.

    And I’m sure you and I could each point to countries with better drinking cultures than both NZ and the US with lower limits than 21. My point isn’t that the age should or shouldn’t be raised, but mostly that the medical consequences of alcohol use have to be weighed against other things, including the effect that regulation has on drinking patterns.

    There is a reason that no country in the world has followed our strict bicycle helmet laws. Despite medical evidence of the dangers of crashing without a helmet, NZ is living proof, accepted world-over, than mandatory helmet laws result in more deaths.

  5. 6 February 2011 at 3:59 pm

    How can we be silent when our young are killing themselves with booze!

    Because more young people might die if we raise the age!

    [just like more people are dying because we mandated the wearing of bicycle helmets.]

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