Drinking age increases alcohol’s mystique; cultural stigma encourages recklessness

American culture has always had a rocky relationship with alcohol. No Western country except the United States has such a tradition of skepticism and disdain for it; as a result, no nation has such a magnitude of alcohol-related social problems.

I feel that many of our problems with alcohol, especially as college students, stem from this cultural stigma that has been attached to drinking. The key to alleviating many of our problems with alcohol is not prohibiting it, but allowing American culture to become more comfortable with and aware of alcohol.

Very few cultures experience the mass of alcohol-related problems that we do, even though we have the Western world’s highest legal age limit for alcohol consumption. I think America’s unhealthy relationship with alcohol has much to do with the 21-year-old drinking age. Rather than try to take alcohol out of the hands of underage drinkers, we should lower the drinking age. This change would radically alter, for the better, the prevalent mainstream attitudes towards alcohol in this country.

Lowering the drinking age would open the floodgate for change in America’s puritanical traditions regarding alcohol. It would expose people to alcohol at an earlier age, in the home, thus enabling parents to teach their children about the joys and dangers of alcoholic beverages. The children would learn about alcohol before they came to college, and would think of it as something normal, rather than as an attractive, rebellious path towards greater social acceptance.

In most western countries, the drinking age is either 18 years, 16 years or simply nonexistent. In my experience abroad, I have seen that in cultures where there is a lower drinking age, alcohol loses its rebellious mystique. For instance, in my summer home-stay in France and in the summers that I lived with relatives in Argentina, alcohol was a part of everyday life. People drank a glass of wine with lunch or dinner, or would have ap̩ritifs in the evening. Teenagers could enjoy the wine with their parents and little children were allowed a sip from time to time. This builds in the child a sort of acceptance Рa familiarity and comfort with alcohol. As a result when children go out and drink with friends they know how to do so properly and responsibly. (This is the way that I was raised, but it is not the norm in most American households).

The 21-year old drinking age itself is an unreasonable farce. As a 19-year-old, the state says I am not capable enough to enjoy a glass of wine with my mother at my favorite restaurant, but I am capable enough to raise a child. According to the laws of the 50 states, I am mature enough to own and operate an assault rifle, but not a pint of Guinness. In my home state, California, I’m not old enough to enjoy a glass of cognac, but if my doctor signs the proper form, I can buy and smoke marijuana. Oh, the inconsistency! What kind of priorities do we have? Can’t one see that there is no logic behind a 21-year old drinking age? 21? It’s a completely random and arbitrary number.

Ironically, it is America’s puritanical attitude that is at the root of many of its alcohol-related problems. Binge drinking, alcohol-related abuse, injuries and deaths on college campuses are the results of a learned misunderstanding of alcohol.

Because most Americans grow up in a culture that frowns upon alcohol use in the family, once young people are free from the rules of their parents, they will naturally go to the extreme and do the opposite of what they have been taught. Because alcohol is a big cultural “no-no,” because young people naturally feel the need to rebel and experiment and because they were not taught to drink properly in their homes, they will naturally and repeatedly misuse alcohol. As a result, many end up in a hospital attached to a stomach pump, or die from alcohol poisoning.

The alternative to lowering the legal drinking age is eliminating it, making it legal for younger people to drink and letting parents teach their children the pleasures and downfalls of alcohol before they go off to college. The lack of a cultural stigma would allow parents to talk freely with their children about drinking. Children would grow up in an environment where wine was as common as soda, and as a result they would be comfortable with alcohol. Consequently, college campuses would not have to deal with the magnitude of alcohol-related problems today.

In ending the 21-year-old legal age requirement to drink, we would also end the many alcohol-related problems that plague our society. American culture would eventually become more at ease with alcohol. Parents, not colleges or police departments, would (and should) have to teach young people about alcohol. As in most other Western countries, drinking would eventually lose much of its mystique and become a part of everyday life. This would help get rid of our society’s traditional naïveté with drinking, the root of many of our alcohol-related social problems.

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