Being a strategic thinker, I like to always be prepared. So prior to my arrival at Wes I did as much “research” (reading People magazine, watching “Mean Girls”) as I could in preparation for the inevitable culture shock I was to experience.
There was one thing, however, for which I was not ready. The inconceivable extremity of binge drinking struck me almost instantly. I purposely say “almost” as it was not until International Orientation was over and the floods of American first-years stormed the campus that I truly experienced what it was like to see someone “drunk out of their mind.” The disparity between the drinking habits of my fellow international students and those of the American first-years intrigued me.
Naturally I was aware of the drinking age in America, and naturally I had to endure the ridiculing of my European friends as they scoffed at the apparently amusing thought of me having to wait another three years before I could legally drink. It hadn’t bothered me, as I’m not a big drinker anyway, and I knew that drinking ages were no match for pubescent adolescents on the prowl. However, I had not stopped to think of the repercussions that a distinctly higher drinking age could have on the entire culture of drinking.
The drinking age in the U.S. was raised to 21 in the mid 1980s in an attempt to decrease traffic accidents caused by drunk drivers, and has effectively managed to reduce the number of alcohol-related fatalities. However, it could easily be argued that this is as much due to modernization and general improvement in the quality of vehicles, as well as safety regulations, as it is due to an actual decline in alcohol-related accidents can be traced back to the early 1970s.
For me, the entire concept of raising the drinking age in order to prevent legal adults from being involved in drunk driving accidents seems absurd and somewhat retrogressive. The U.S. Department of State states that children become adults at age 18 in the United States, therefore enabling to join the army, vote, own a gun, and get married as soon as they turn 18. The idea that one can be credited with so much responsibility and be declared a legal adult at the age of 18, yet is prohibited from drinking a glass of wine at dinner, strikes me as fundamentally absurd.
I know generalizations are a taboo at Wes, so therefore I apologize in advance; nonetheless it is hard to dismiss the affiliation between American culture and the concept of “excessiveness.” This concept is demonstrated and magnified in connection with the drinking culture in America. Most people under the age of 21 drink to get drunk, as the notion of having a glass of wine or a beer simply because one enjoys the taste, is unprecedented. Binge drinking has become a habitual part of college life in particular, as the illegality of it simply makes it more appealing. The appeal lies in the idea that whilst alcohol is illegal, it’s not dangerous to the extent in which other illegal substances or drugs are, therefore having just the right combination of illicit temptation and precarious dependability, resulting in the abuse and overindulgence of what can otherwise be a complimentary substance to a good dinner.
What struck me further, in my first week at Wes especially, was the apparently inevitable association between drinking and sexual assault. Growing up with an overprotective German mother means that I have had my fair share of safety talks, yet this was the first time that I encountered the concept of sexual assault being a direct result of alcohol misuse. I was taught that if I were ever to be sexually assaulted, the only reasoning behind this would be that my attacker was mentally unstable or otherwise severely deranged. The fact that binge drinking is carried out to the extent where it is to be expected that someone might be so drunk they will lose all of their morals and principles to the point where they might sexually assault you is, frankly, deeply disturbing.
Relating to my previously mentioned “research,” I am reminded of Coach Carr’s wise words, “Don’t have sex because you will get pregnant and die,” which to me sounds like a parallel of what the American Government is saying about drinking. “Don’t drink because you will get into a car crash and die.” Well, I think at this rate, with more than 10,000 people dying every year due to alcohol-related accidents, the problem is that the government might actually be right. Contrary to what many might say, I think the answer to this problem lies in lowering the drinking age. Americans reach the state of adulthood without having ever been taught how to handle their alcohol, which further leads to the marginalization of parents roles in educating their children about the misuse of alcohol as the government robs parents of that right.
Gabrielle Glaser sums this up perfectly by saying that “We don’t hand teenagers car keys without first educating them about how to drive. Why expect 21-year-olds to learn how to drink responsibly without learning from moderate models, at home and in alcohol education programs?”
The fundamental problem therefore lies in the U.S. government’s misconception of what creates safe drinking habits; by raising the drinking age they are merely robbing us of the chance of learning to limit ourselves by the time we have reached legal adulthood.
Emily Steckhan is a member of the Class of 2019.