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Alcohol is one of the most popular drugs in the United States, and is regularly consumed by approximately 51.5% of the adult population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alcohol is a depressant, and slows down a number of systems within the body, including breath rate, heart rate, and brain function.

Alcohol stays in the bloodstream until the liver breaks it down. The amount of alcohol in the blood is known as the BAC, or blood alcohol content. According to the National Institutes of Health, one is legally considered drunk when their BAC level has reached between 0.08% and 0.10%, though this definition varies by state. According to the Mayo Clinic, in moderate use, alcohol can provide a number of health benefits, including reducing the risk of heart disease, heart attack, stroke, gallstones, and diabetes. However, the excessive use of alcohol can bring about great health and safety risks, including alcoholism, accidents, cancer, unsafe sex, and death by suicide or alcohol poisoning. A person’s alcohol tolerance level varies by age, weight, sex, and drinking experience, in addition to the concentration of alcohol being consumed.

In all 50 states, it is illegal to purchase or consume alcohol for anyone under the age of 21. However, drinking is seen as a common feature of the college experience. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, about four out of five college students under the age of 21 drink alcohol, and about half of those students binge drink. An estimated 1,825 students die every year as a result of alcohol-related accidents. According to Crisis Connection, 90% of campus rapes involve alcohol use either by the perpetrator or the survivor. All colleges and universities in the United States have different policies regarding on-campus alcohol consumption and possession.

The ratification of the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution in 1920 ushered in an era that is now known as Prohibition. The 18th Amendment banned the manufacture, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages. Though the amendment did not prohibit private consumption and possession of alcohol, it made it considerably more difficult to do so. The amendment came out of the temperance movement in the US, which was seen as a progressive movement to reduce alcohol consumption. Because alcohol was, and still is, a huge part of American culture, Prohibition is largely viewed as a failure. Though the temperance movement sought to curb alcohol consumption as an effort to improve public safety and protect marriages, Prohibition actually led to an increase in crime. Prohibition led to an increase in bootlegging, the illegal production and sale of alcohol, and in the founding of now-infamous speakeasies, or underground bars, in addition to an increase in gang violence. By 1933, Prohibition ended with the ratification of the 21st amendment. The 21st Amendment gives states the power to regulate the sale, importation, distribution, and possession of alcohol within their boundaries.

Today, federal, state, and local laws govern how alcohol is manufactured, sold, and consumed, while also trying to find solutions to alcohol-related problems. The Federal Uniform Drinking Age Act of 1984 set the legal drinking age for all states at 21. The federal government has the power to withhold highway funding from states that permit people under the age of 21 to purchase alcohol or drink publicly. All 50 states established 21 as the legal drinking age, but some states allow underage individuals to drink publicly with their parents, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

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