The Minimum Legal Drinking Age, or MLDA, is the minimum age at which someone is legally allowed to buy and drink alcohol. Laws related to the MLDA cover a great range of issues, including when and where alcoholic drinks can be consumed. Those laws differ from country to country. Most countries have set their MLDA at 18 or 19 years old.
As a nation, the United States of America, along with 19 other countries, have the highest legal drinking age. However, some parts of India have drinking ages as high as 25 to 30 years. Moreover, there are some countries, particularly Muslim countries, where alcohol is entirely banned, although an exception is sometimes made for non-Muslims.
Youngest Drinking Age in the World
Even though the majority of the world's countries have set their legal drinking age at 18 years old, 16 is known to be the youngest legal drinking age anywhere. There are at least 8 countries where the minimum drinking age is 16 years old. The countries and territories that have set the bar at this age include the British Virgin Islands, Barbados, Cuba, Luxembourg, Serbia, Italy, Zimbabwe, and Panama.
In those countries, selling, giving, or offering alcoholic drinks to young people under 16 years old is considered an offense. In Zimbabwe, however, anyone is allowed to sell or supply alcoholic drinks to underage individuals, as long as they have proof. The latter may come in the form of a letter signed by a parent or guardian.
Why Is There a Minimum Legal Drinking Age?
Several reasons have been given for the need to have laws and regulations to set and enforce a minimum legal drinking age. Some researchers have suggested that letting minors consume alcohol can affect their studies. Alcohol consumption can also affect one’s behaviors negatively.
However, the main justification for banning minors from drinking alcohol until they reach a certain age is that it can affect young people’s brains lastingly. As minors' brains are still in the process of maturing, alcohol can have a persistent negative effect on their memories as well as long-term thoughts.
Moreover, minors are still undergoing continuous physical changes as their body grows and develops, particularly throughout puberty. As a result, minors' alcohol consumption can also bring about complications like hormonal imbalance and liver failure.
Most Common Legal Drinking Ages
Okay, so this may come as a surprise: there is no such thing as a common drinking age. Just about half of the world's nations (or about 83 out of the 178 countries on our list) don’t have any kind of minimum drinking age restriction.
However, a lot of these nations do have a minimum purchase age, which varies from 14 to 20 years old. In these countries, minors are allowed to drink in their own home in the presence of an adult, but alcohol consumption is prohibited in public. A lot of these countries have age rules according to the alcohol by volume, or ABV, as well as regulations according to the kind of alcohol being consumed.
Average Drinking Age
The average minimum legal drinking age around the world is 10.3 years old. At least 93 countries don’t apply age restrictions on drinking alcohol. And among the countries that have higher legal drinking ages, 18.6 is considered to be the global average.
The enforcement of the national legal drinking age also varies broadly from country to country. In a lot of nations, officers do not usually enforce the law if there is no abuse.
Globally, the average age at which drinking alcohol first takes place is between 12 and 13. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 80% of young people worldwide start consuming alcoholic drinks on a regular basis by the age of 15 or younger.
Different Types of Age Laws
It is necessary to distinguish between two types of age laws. The first type sets the minimum ages for drinking alcoholic beverages. Countries might have age regulations for drinking under several conditions. For instance, for drinking in public, with parents, on private property, with parents' approval, etc. Or, they might take into account a combination of different conditions.
The second type of minimum drinking age is for buying alcoholic drinks from a store. Again, laws might set different conditions. For instance, an individual might be able to buy low alcohol-proof beverages legally, but not high-proof ones until a later age.
Generally, countries or nations set the minimum age for purchasing alcohol at the same level as the legal drinking age. However, there are also a lot of exceptions and many cases of countries that have set different legal ages for drinking and purchasing alcohol.
Drinking Ages Around the World
15 Years Old
The central African Republic, Ethiopia.
16 Years Old
Zimbabwe, The British Virgin Islands, Serbia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Palestine, Luxembourg, Italy, Cuba, Barbados.
17 Years Old
The Gambia, Malta, Cyprus, Brunei.
18 Years Old
Zambia, Vietnam, Venezuela, Vanuatu, Uruguay, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, Ukraine, Uganda, Turkmenistan, Turkey, Turk and Caicos Islands, Trinidad and Tobago, Tonga, Tokelau, Tanzania, Tajikistan, Taiwan, Syria, Switzerland, Sweden, Swaziland, Spain, South Sudan, South Africa, Slovenia, Slovakia, Singapore, Seychelles, Senegal, San Marino. Rwanda, Republic of the Congo, Puerto Rico, Poland, Philippines, Peru, Papua New Guinea, Panama, Norway, North Korea, Nigeria, Niger, Nicaragua, New Zealand, Netherlands, Nepal, Myanmar, Mozambique, Montenegro, Mongolia, Moldova, Micronesia, Mexico, Macedonia, Liechtenstein, Liberia, Lesotho, Lebanon, Latvia, Kyrgyzstan, Kenya, Jordan, Israel, Ireland, India, Hungary, Hong Kong, Honduras, Haiti, Guyana, Guatemala, Grenada, Gibraltar, Ghana, Germany, Georgia, Gabon, France, Finland, Fiji, Falkland Islands, Estonia, El SalvadorEritrea, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Denmark, Czech Republic, Croatia, Albania, Andorra, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahamas,Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Bermuda, Bhutan, Bolivia,Bosnia and Herzevogina, Botswana, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burundi, Cape Verde, Cayman Islands, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic, Argentina, Austria, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Bermuda, Bhutan, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burundi, Cape Verde, Cayman Islands, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Albania, Andorra.
19 Years Old
Canada, South Korea.
20 Years Old
Uzbekistan, Thailand, Paraguay, Lithuania, Japan, Iceland.
21 Years Old
United States, Sri Lanka, Solomon Islands, Samoa, Palau, Oman, Northern Mariana Islands, Malaysia, Kazakhstan, Indonesia, Guam, Equatorial, Guinea, Egypt, American Samoa.
Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Pakistan, Maldives, Libya, Kuwait, Iraq, Iran, Bangladesh, Algeria, Afghanistan.
No Drinking Age
Western Sahara, Tunisia, Togok Macau, Kosovo, Guinea-Bissau, Cambodia, Bahrain, Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla, Angola.
Minimum Legal Drinking Age and Health & Safety
The existing research conducted so far on this topic has found that countries that have set their legal drinking ages between 16 and 19 years old have fewer accidental deaths related to alcohol consumption. In addition, they show a lesser incidence of binge drinking.
Meanwhile, according to findings from these studies, nations with higher legal drinking ages, such as the United States, see a much higher rate of accidental deaths due to alcohol consumption, as well as higher rates of alcohol addiction and of accidents related to drunk driving.
While a lot of the data available to date suggests that setting the legal drinking age lower would teach the younger generation to drink responsibly, it does not seem like the law will change anytime soon.
Hopefully, this article has given you an idea of the legal age for drinking in different countries and shared some interesting facts about the minimum legal drinking age around the world.
So, what do you think about these facts? Make sure to share your thoughts in the comment box below! And if you're interested in reading more articles like this, have a browse through the rest of this blog!