On Wednesday evening my friends and I began a small celebration. It was our friend’s 20th birthday and he spent his night—since he is a fellow Brit—not in a pub or at a club, as on his 19th or 18th, but in our apartment clasping a red cup.
This unusual (if not a little sad) state of affairs gave me pause. How is it we live in a country that will happily let a 20 year old buy a house, serve on jury duty, vote, appear in a pornographic film and even go to war, but the same adult cannot sink back a few cold ones during his or her morning shower?
Until 1984, the age one had to be to sulk off to a liquor store when the day proved too hard to further endure, or too fantastic to get any better, fell well within a state’s jurisdiction. Yet that year, lawmakers in Washington announced they would federalize the minimum age of purchase to 21.
This decision earned America its status as employing the strictest youth alcohol consumption prohibitions in the West.
But surely there is ample reason for such an obvious intrusion of
the state into the private life of Joe America? In order for this law to be considered both practical and beneficial, it must be shown to curb the harmful—not recreational—consequences of drinking beer in the shower.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, four out of five college students consume alcohol, and 60 percent of them are under the age of 20. The NIAAA also reports only half of alcohol-related college accidents happen to those “underage” drinkers.
Surprisingly, these statistics reveal college students deemed too young to drink are less likely to end up falling over in the shower than those of legal age. More importantly, they confirm the large majority of “underage” students regularly sidestep America’s drinking restrictions with apparent ease.
At this point, it does not seem outrageous to suggest these restrictions should neither be considered a practical nor beneficial intervention of federal policy. In my opinion, America should be able to look across the Atlantic for a more European perspective, without sacrificing its own individuality.
Mainland Europe is famously laissez-faire when it comes to booze. Indeed, as Utah made an additional tweak to its stringent liquor laws in 2011, Russia’s government classified beer as an alcoholic beverage for the first time—ever.
It may be the case that the Italians consider wine a breakfast drink and the French aren’t far off from pouring it in their cornflakes, yet these are countries where teenage binge drinking is at a low compared to the countries of the Anglosphere.
The key to this apparent responsibility among young Europeans is old-fashioned home education and transparency. Alcohol is not taught to be an evil taboo, inevitably leading to forbidden fruit syndrome, but is introduced at an earlier age with parental guidance.
Family values are something America prides itself on. Why, then, are the citizens of the U.S. not trusted to educate their children on both the joys and dangers of drinking beer in the shower?
This remains an unanswered question, and every week many American adults find themselves breaking an arguably condescending federal law.
It’s no wonder, with spring break approaching, that many college students are booking flights to Mexico.
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