I have a terrible confession to make.
In 1992, I voted for George H. Bush. It seemed like a pretty good vote. After all, I agreed with our military action in Kuwait. One country invaded another, we took a side, and we rectified that particular situation. Under George I, gas was still under a buck per gallon. We were in a recession, but I recognized even then that recessions have little to do with who’s behind The Big Desk. Plus, George was a holdover from the only administration I really knew, the Reagan Administration. George was the comfortable choice. And I wasn’t wild about his Democratic challenger, Bill Clinton, who promised the people of Arkansas that if elected governor he would not run for President, and then ran for the White House anyway.
This was the decision I made at the age of 18, my first year of voter eligibility. If I had to make the choice today, I still might have voted for George, but I would have at least been more informed. I might have come to a more mature decision.
Which leads me to this country’s mandatory drinking age.
There’s an argument, one that springs to the surface ever so often, that we should reduce the alcoholic beverage drinking age from 21 to 18. Here are the most common rationales:
1. If you are eligible for the military draft, then you should be eligible to drink a cocktail.
2. It is better to introduce alcohol to people earlier than later, because then drinking won’t be a taboo and irresistible vice. Rather, young people can be better educated about alcohol and therefore more responsible.
3. Kids drink anyway.
4. Dueling age requirements (18 to vote, 21 to drink) sends a mixed-message about adulthood.
5. Other countries have lower limits.
Before I skillfully disassemble these rationales, let it first be noted that not only do I enjoy alcoholic beverages today, I also enjoyed them as an underage college student. It wasn’t hard to obtain booze. If I couldn’t trick the liquor store guy with my cool demeanor (i.e., I didn’t wear a baseball cap and immediately gravitate the the margarita mix – that’s a tip, kids), I’d simply load my buddies into my car and consume free drinks at the casinos in Tunica, where I also participated in underage gambling. Good times.
So you can’t label the Angry Czeck as a Puritan when I announce that, if anything, the drinking age should be increased rather than decreased.
Think about Eighteen Year Old You: Thinner. Less wrinkly. Susceptible to poor fashion decisions. Partial to The Catcher in the Rye and Reservoir Dogs and depressing rock bands. When I was eighteen, I illegally purchased a case of Zima. Remember Zima? Colorless malt liquor encased in a pretty bottle. Most people, if they drank Zima, they drank one or two. Not me. I was going for the record. By the next morning, I was shitting Zima bottle caps in the wake of my very first hangover. Good times.
Drinking a case of Zima was not a good decision. Then why did I make it? Because I was eighteen, that’s why. If one Zima made me smarter and better looking, eleven more Zima’s would make me Zeus. That’s Eighteen Year Old Logic, my man. And if you think I’m an isolated case, stick your head in a frat party some day. Nobody is sipping sifters of cognac and discussing Victorian Age literature.
Eighteen-year-old kids lack the maturity to drink responsibly. And if that makes me sound like a curmudgeon, then so be it. But let’s explore some facts.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that people aged 12 to 20 years drink almost 20% of all alcohol consumed in the United States. Over 90% of this alcohol is consumed in the form of binge drinks. On average, underage drinkers consume more drinks per drinking occasion than adult drinkers. In 2004, there were over 142,000 emergency rooms visits by youth 12 to 20 years for injuries and other conditions linked to alcohol.
Of those statistics, the most compelling is that 90% of alcohol consumed by underage drinkers is in the form of “binge drinks.” Binge drinking is not a glass of wine before bed to calm the nerves. It’s when you drink so much booze so fast you wind up having angry friends tell you how the night panned out. It’s the kind of drinking that leads to the discovery of a mysterious kid-sized dent in your front bumper.
Adults drink too. But is 90% of adult drinking classified as binging? To be honest, I don’t know. But I’m willing to wager a testicle that the number isn’t 90%.
Why do underage kids binge? Because they’re kids.
Apologists will scream that today’s youth are smarter and more sophisticated than the youth of the past. They will insist that legally introducing young people to alcohol will instill a sense of respect for booze. That sounds good – if you’re a lobbyist for Budweiser. Kids don’t drink to respect the mind-addling affects of alcohol. They drink because getting drunk is cool.
So then the apologist will argue that kids are drinking anyway, so we might as well legalize it. This makes sense in the same way that we should make assault rifles legal because criminals can get them anyway. Somehow, believers in this rationale are convinced that if there are no restraints to alcohol, kids will eschew boozing for softball games and choir practice. “Drinking is lame because it’s legal! Let’s give church a try!”
The bigger issue to this argument is “Where do we stop?” For example, statistics show that underage drinking often begins at the age of 12. Why not make drinking legal for twelve year olds? Problem solved.
Next, the apologist will announce that a person who is old enough to fight for his country is old enough to drink, too. This is a popular argument because it sounds patriotic and rebellious at the same time. And the Angry Czeck agrees. I say, raise the draft age to 21. Right now, we’re relying on 18 year-old kids to keep the peace in a hostile Arabic nation. Why not give control of the World Bank to Freddy Munoz while we’re at it?
My favorite argument for lower the drinking age is that the United States should follow the lead of other countries that’ve lowered their limits.
My first response is “Who gives a flying fuck what France does?” Until we find another country that grants teenagers as much free access to highways and automobiles as the United States, then bite me. Furthermore, the rest of the world can afford to be nations of drunks because they have the good old United States to bail them out whenever things get dicey. It astounds me when somebody insists we should model our society like Denmark. What in the fuck has Denmark done for us since perfecting the coo-coo clock? Why should we be more like England? When was the last time England led the world in anything? 1880?
I’m not knocking other countries. I think other nations are cute. Just for once, why not say “This is how the United States approaches under age drinking. Maybe Italy should try it!” Oh, wait. I forgot. If it comes from a foreign country, it must be better. Anything from the United States is crap.
I digress. I think we’re still talking about lower the age limit on alcohol. Here’s my final thought: There are some things that are exclusively appropriate for people of a certain age. Drinking is one of those things. A thirteen year old may be physically able to drive a car, but we’ve decided that he has to wait another three years before his head is up to the challenge. The same applies to drinking.
If you remember how you drank when you were 18, you might agree with me.