U.S. legal drinking age does more damage than good

By Cecilie Thogersen ’19 

I had just turned 15 the first time I got drunk. My friend held a birthday party at her house and I showed up with a six-pack of beer. In less than an hour I managed to drink four beers before I threw it all up again and my friend’s parents helped me lie down to sleep on their couch. The next morning I called my dad to come pick me up and he laughed as I told him about my drunken escapade the night before. He was neither angry nor surprised that I had been drinking alcohol. After all it was him who had bought the six-pack for me.

I have now lived and gone to college in the U.S. for about four months and one of the things that has struck me the most is how different the drinking culture is here compared to Denmark. Not only in relation to the Danish rules and regulations where 16-year-olds can legally buy alcohol, but also in regard to many young people’s relationship with alcohol and the way alcohol consumption is talked about.

Being able to have my first experiences with alcohol with adult supervision and having open and honest conversations with my parents have shaped my view of alcohol and has given me a more natural relationship with drinking.

I have met several American college students who had never tried alcohol before they started college. Many of them have never talked to their parents about alcohol and had their first drinking experience at house parties without any supervision of non-drinkers.

Some argue that people below the age of 21 are not mature enough to handle alcohol and by banning alcohol for youngsters, they are helping them. But even though the legal drinking age is 21, studies show that 20 percent of high schoolers have been drunk and more than 70 percent of college students regularly drink alcohol. I believe that the way young people in the U.S. have to hide their drinking and doing it in secret lead them to have their first experiences with drinking alcohol in a much more unsafe and irresponsible way

The consumption of alcohol was never a taboo when I grew up as my parents often talked with us about how to drink responsibly. When me and my siblings became teenagers, my parents started to offer us to taste small sips of beer or wine at dinner once in a while. According to a study by Anthropology professor at Brown University, Dwight B. Heath, this method both allows parents to educate their kids about alcohol and it also robs drinking of its allure. Heath said that in general, the younger people start to drink the safer they are because when alcohol is introduced early, it has no mystique and is not a big deal. By contrast, where it is banned until age 21, there is something of the ‘forbidden fruit’ syndrome, where alcohol becomes interesting just because it is not allowed.

U.S. lawmakers need to realize that despite what the law states, many young people below the legal drinking age are still consuming alcohol. Instead of ignoring the statistics, they should look at the laws and alcohol cultures of European countries. American youth could get a much greater understanding of alcohol if they had the opportunity to have their first legal experience with alcohol at a younger age in safe environments supervised by parents.



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