The following op-ed piece was written by Cathedral Prep senior Jack Kelly. All opinions expressed are his own personal opinions.
Any eighteen-year-old American soldier—who is by definition an “adult”—has the right to die for his or her country but does not have the right to consume alcoholic beverages. Alcohol has been made the “forbidden fruit” of our society by the many stringent laws implemented to avoid misuse of it. While misuse of alcohol certainly should be combated, our government could and should go at it in a much more constructive manner. The current drinking age of 21 should be lowered to 18 to morph the nature of alcohol in United States culture.
The United States could learn form other countries with lower drinking ages. The U.S. rate of traffic-related deaths—many of which result from drunk driving—is 124 deaths per million people, but in the Netherlands, that rate is 40 deaths per million. In Sweden it’s 42, and in the U.K. it’s 43 (All three of these countries have drinking ages of 18.). If our government would pay attention to the statistics, they would easily observe that countries with lower drinking ages face fewer alcohol related problems.
Europeans drink more than Americans; there is no denying that. But when Europeans do drink, they drink in moderation. To illustrate this, let us observe the drinking habits of Germany and the United States. According to a study published by Bettina Friese and Joel W. Grube of the Prevention Research Center at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, 75 percent of 15-16 year olds in Germany reported consumption of alcohol in the past 30 days, but only 18 percent reported intoxication in the past 30 days. Surveying the same demographic group in America, 33 percent reported consumption of alcohol in the past 30 days, and 18 percent reported intoxication in that time frame. When underage people drink in the United States, they drink excessively.
Inebriation is rampant in America. The United States has the single highest rate of binge drinking in the world among young people; one in five American high school girls binge drinks, which may constitute a large portion of the explanation for the estimated annual mortality rate of 23,000 women due to excessive alcohol consumption. About 90% of the alcohol consumed by youth under the age of 21 in the United States is in the form of binge drinks; Drinking too much, including binge drinking, cost the United States $223.5 billion in 2006, or $1.90 a drink, from losses in productivity, health care, crime, and other expenses. Drinking is a serious problem in the United States.
But what are we doing wrong? The root of this problem rests in the very culture of alcohol in our society. We are taught to look at alcohol as a damning poison, something not to be tampered with, let alone enjoyed. “You expose your daughter to alcohol before she turns twenty one? Shame on you! Have you no morals?” How can we expect our children to know how to handle alcohol once they are 21 if all we do is shield them from it and warn them of the inherent evils of it?
Furthermore, it is human nature to be rebellious at younger ages. When authority tells young people to stay away from alcohol, take a guess at what they want most. We might as well make the most of this innate desire by outlawing vegetables and exercise too.
The key to solving our problem is exposure (Mind you, this does not mean exploitation.). What Europeans do with alcohol that Americans do not is expose it to young people in moderate fashions. In doing so, they diminish the rebellious desire among the youth to abuse the substance. For the sake of the safety of our young people, we must make an honest attempt at adopting the European philosophy of instillation of temperance and moderation at a young age.
Alcohol is not evil, but if used improperly, it can surely cause problems. We, as a nation, can do something about our alcohol problem. By fostering a new nationwide outlook, we can shift our perspective on alcohol from a forbidden fruit to nothing more than a beverage to be enjoyed from time to time. We must dissolve the elusiveness and rebelliousness associated with alcohol today, for they are what make young people desire so desperately to abuse it.
The benefits of an alcoholically temperate and moderate youth population in the United States would be enormous. We would see many fewer alcohol related tragedies and more economic growth if we exposed our young people to alcohol in correct manners, so that when the time comes, they may enjoy alcohol in ways that are enjoyable for them and not destructive to society. An integral step in the direction of positive chance is lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18.