Start Drinking Early

A coalition of college presidents has aggravated the usual suspects -- and even some writers I usually agree with, like Steve Chapman and Jay Hancock -- by arguing that the drinking age should come down to 18. I'm with the anthropologist Dwight Heath, who takes their argument a step further:

[D]rinking alcohol itself is not the root of the social, legal and physical problems attributed to underage drinking. Rather, it is heavy, excessive drinking among teenagers that is causing most of the problems.

It is this culture of excessive drinking among youths that some college presidents hope to change. They want to teach young people how to drink responsibly, a lesson that I believe should include encouraging parents to drink in moderation with their underage children at home.

Heath points out that "kids who drank with their parents were about half as likely to say they had drunk alcohol in the past month and one-third as likely to say they had had five or more consecutive drinks in the previous two weeks." (He also distinguishes drinking moderate amounts at dinner, which he endorses, from supplying kids with booze for their parties, which he does not.) Most important, he points to some compelling cross-cultural evidence:

Introducing alcohol to children at a young age is a widely acceptable and culturally ingrained practice in other countries. France views drinking as an integral part of everyday life, a sociable custom usually enjoyed at the family table. Children are allowed to experiment, within limits, and no one expects that drinking will significantly change their lives. The fear that teaching kids to be responsible drinkers will only teach them to be heavy drinkers has been unfounded in other "wine cultures," including Italy and Spain. Both countries report very low rates of alcohol dependence: less than 1 percent in Italy and 2.8 percent in Spain. In the U.S., the rate is 7.8 percent.

Whatever else it may be, drinking is a learned behavior. It is shaped by a complex combination of observations, warnings and personal experience. The U.S. needs to start recreating a culture like the one we had 200 years ago where alcohol was an everyday part of family life and not the tempting forbidden fruit.

Both France and Italy, incidentally, have a drinking age of 16. I don't often get a chance to say this, so here goes: If only we were as free as France!

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  • ||

    I think anyone old enough to go ten's or hundred's of thousands in debt to go to school can handle a beer.

  • Abdul||

    What we really need is mandatory alcohol education, starting in elementary school and continuing through high school.

    Is TWC up to the challenge?

  • ||

    Abdul-

    Yes. Kids should be taught all about beechwood aging, for example.

  • Citizen Nothing||

    Walker - Chapman cage match!
    Woohoo!

  • Abdul||

    libertymike,

    To be clear, I was advocating a practicum using authentic realia to support collaborative pedagogy with real world application, namely, cocktail parties at recess.

    Studies have shown that students deprived of quality alcohol education come to the ignorant conclusion that good whisky should be mixed with soda pop.

  • :-/||

    Steve Chapman is a poopy-head douche! Waaaahh!

  • Citizen Nothing||

    Abdul,
    I grant your point about good whisky. But without the whisky-and-Coke, what would we do will all the Jim Beam?

  • Citizen Nothing||

    Does that emoticon at 10:20 indicate a stroke victim?

  • ||

    I agree Abdul. I think a mandatory happy hour just after fifth period would have made junior high a hell of a lot more bearable.

  • ||

    If you want your children to grow up as hysterical, risk-averse nannytarians, you have to start training thm early.

  • ||

    I always new there was a social control liberal inside Steve Chapman just waiting to burst out and explain how social statistics justify treating an adult individual like a child.

  • Jerry||

    This is unfair. I was expecting an article that would make the case that early morning drinking is finally socially acceptable, turns out it is about these college kids again.

  • Jozef||

    I went to a college that had a very lenient alcohol policy, basically "do what you want within the campus limits". We had huge parties, which often spilled out of the dorms. We pulled out couches, got a few kegs of beer and spent hours playing beer pong or just chilling and drinking. There were a few bad cases of alcohol poisoning, but less than a dozen per semester. Then came the crackdown, pushed on us by the state of New Jersey. No more open containers outside your room, and your room door had to be closed. Within the first month we had over twenty alcohol poisoning cases. Why? Because suddenly all the underage drinkers had to drink liquor, and do so very fast, to get drunk; no longer could they have six beers over two or three hours without the fear of getting caught...

  • ||

    Jerry,

    Chapman will tell you that people who drink before noon are clearly abusing the franchise and need to be reeducated on the matter of drinking.

  • BDB||

    Make it 18 to buy alcohol, 15 to consume it.

  • BDB||

    Having it at 21 is just ridiculous and unenforceable. I don't know anyone except Mormons and fundamentalist Baptists who obeyed that law, and they usually never start drinking at all.

  • Andrew Ian Dodge||

    16 sounds about right. The drinking age of 21 is daft and goes against all rational sense. 18 makes sense too considering what you can do in most states at that age.

  • Elemenope||

    I went to a college that had a very lenient alcohol policy, basically "do what you want within the campus limits". We had huge parties, which often spilled out of the dorms. We pulled out couches, got a few kegs of beer and spent hours playing beer pong or just chilling and drinking. There were a few bad cases of alcohol poisoning, but less than a dozen per semester. Then came the crackdown, pushed on us by the state of New Jersey. No more open containers outside your room, and your room door had to be closed. Within the first month we had over twenty alcohol poisoning cases. Why? Because suddenly all the underage drinkers had to drink liquor, and do so very fast, to get drunk; no longer could they have six beers over two or three hours without the fear of getting caught...

    Ditto where I went. Almost to the letter (except for the New Jersey thing.)

  • ||

    The fear that teaching kids to be responsible drinkers will only teach them to be heavy drinkers has been unfounded in other "wine cultures," including Italy and Spain. Both countries report very low rates of alcohol dependence: less than 1 percent in Italy and 2.8 percent in Spain.

    While I totally agree that these countries' exposing children to alcohol early is a positive factor, you also have to understand that getting fucking wasted is severely culturally frowned upon in these countries.

    In the US or England you can get wasted at a party and act like an idiot and the next day people might laugh at you, but it's still brushed off as you "just getting loaded". If you do that in Spain, for instance, it is considered pathetic and is extremely embarrassing. You won't get invited to the next party.

    Maybe that cultural attitude is a result of moderate drinking being the norm, I don't know. But it exists.

  • BDB||

    Epi makes a good point. Heres another one: The driving age in those countries is higher. This stops teenage drunk driving.

    Really if anything should be raised here its the driving age. A 16 year old driving a car scares me a hell of a lot more than a 16 year old having a beer!

  • Rhywun||

    Children are allowed to experiment, within limits, and no one expects that drinking will significantly change their lives.



    This stuff is just so obvious; and I'm willing to bet that a huge percentage of Americans already practice something like this. I know my Mom did. Of course, then I got to college and it was bar runs to Ontario, skeezy frat parties, and selling beer to my underage friends (I was a cashier for a while).

  • Rhywun||

    Really if anything should be raised here its the driving age.



    I tried to make that case in the other thread; it ain't gonna happen.

  • BDB||

    Of course not. Because, oh noes! The little teenage brats can't take a BUS to school their last two years! Thats UNFAIR!

  • ||

    "I don't know anyone except Mormons and fundamentalist Baptists who obeyed that law, and they usually never start drinking at all."

    Having grown up in the Bible belt, I can't speak for Mormons, but for Baptists that is bullshit. Being a "fundementalist Baptist" just means that you don't say hello to each other in the liquer store.

  • ||

    Heres another one: The driving age in those countries is higher. This stops teenage drunk driving.

    It's not much higher. The difference is (for example in Spain) that the driving test is way harder than here. Way, way harder. New drivers have a better sense of the capabilities and size of their (almost uniformly) little cars. These people know their car's size down to the inch (centimeter?) because roads are so small and parking is tight and scarce.

  • ||

    The driving age thing kills me. The same parents who won't let their kids go on jungle gyms and make them were geeky bicycle helmets will buy said children a Ford Mustang with a five liter V8 engine for their 16th birthday. Driving will kill your kid a lot quicker than drinking.

  • robc||

    Citizen Nothing,

    As a KYian I feel it is my duty to inform you of bourbon distinctions.

    Jim Beam isnt bourbon. It is a mixer.

    Thus, mixing it with coke is okay. Now, if you get my bottle of Elijah Craig 18-year, for example, within 20 feet of soda, Im going to cause a problem.

  • BDB||

    Make the driving tests harder too then.

    I say smoking, drinking and 16. Gambling, voting, driving 19. Thats what I would do were I dictator.

  • BDB||

    At least my parents got it right. They'd let me have a beer at dinner starting around 15 1/2 or so, but no car until 18 and a specified number of hours of driving with them.

  • ||

    "In the US or England you can get wasted at a party and act like an idiot and the next day people might laugh at you, but it's still brushed off as you "just getting loaded". If you do that in Spain, for instance, it is considered pathetic and is extremely embarrassing. You won't get invited to the next party."

    This is also true in Latin America. The drinking age is 18 but most kids begin drinking around 15. They get stupid drunk at that age but later most of them learn how to handle liquor. However, there is always the party drunk, who no matter what age, makes a fool of him or herself.
    Note: culturally, "chugging" is NOT cool- it stinks of desperation.

  • Rhywun||

    The difference is (for example in Spain) that the driving test is way harder than here.



    Same in Germany. Also, getting a car isn't the "status symbol" or "rite of passage" that it is here. At least, not while in high school (which is 13 years like in Canada). Lots of 18 year olds ride mopeds instead, though. Plus it's perfectly easy to get around almost anywhere without your own wheels.

    All these factors -- none of which will change in the US anytime soon -- mean the European example is kind of irrelevant. But interesting, nonetheless.

  • BDB||

    Of course then theres Russia where there is functionally no drinking age AND its always a-ok to get wasted.

  • ||

    Having grown up in the Bible belt, I can't speak for Mormons, but for Baptists that is bullshit. Being a "fundementalist Baptist" just means that you don't say hello to each other in the liquer store.

    A Catholic, Lutheran and Baptist are shopping in a liquor store when a fire erupts. Everyone made it out safely except the Baptist. He didn't make out alive because the back door was locked.

  • ||

    "Now, if you get my bottle of Elijah Craig 18-year, for example, within 20 feet of soda, Im going to cause a problem."

    I went to a baptism party last weekend and every table had a bottle of 18 year-old whiskey, as well as water, soda and coca-cola for mixing... Robc, you would have had a fit!!

  • BDB||

    John--

    Maybe its different from when you grew up, but where I was very few practicing baptist kids in high school and college drank (grew up in southside Virginia in the 1990s, FWIW).

  • BDB||

    Now, there were a lot of "Baptists" who went to church on Christmas and Easter and whatnot. They would put it down.

  • Jesse Walker||

    Of course then theres Russia where there is functionally no drinking age AND its always a-ok to get wasted.

    When I visited Russia in 1995, a young woman I'd been hanging out with asked if I drank. I said I did. She seemed put off by this. Eventually I understood that this was because she knew only two categories of people: teetotalers and alcoholics.

  • BDB||

    Of course Mormons drink too, just in the closet.

  • ||

    a young woman I'd been hanging out with

    Did you make big trouble for moose and squirrel?

  • ||

    Jesse,

    Did anyone do that "flick themselves in the throat" thing to you (as a signal to go outside and have a drink in private?) I've wondered for a decade if my friend was jerking my chain over that story.

  • ||

    NutraSweet, I know the Polish do this neck-chopping motion thing with their hand to indicate getting wasted/having more to drink. Possibly similar.

  • BDB||

    The Polish are extremely fun to drink with.

  • Jesse Walker||

    SugarFree: If they did, I completely missed what they were trying to express.

  • Abdul||

    I once took a train trip across Russia. At the time, I didn't drink. I especially did not want to start drinking vodka that came in a 12 ounce can with a skull and crossbones label. But apparently, the word "nyet" includes an exception when the question is "do you want to get gooned up on vodka?"

  • ||

    This is the article I expected to see in Reason regarding drinking. Not that Chapman crap.

    And how often do you get to read this!!!!!!!!

    If only we were as free as France!

    I happen to this that our irresponsbile drinking habits, that only SOME exhibit, has more to do with our puritanical history. Raising the the drinking age makes getting rid of that puritanism harder, not easier.

    And I would share wine with my child if I knew a fucking swat team wouldn't come in and shoot me. When I was in the army in West Germany, the 18 year old German would laugh at how idiotic 25 year old American would act with their superior beer.

  • Citizen Nothing||

    "I went to a baptism party last weekend and every table had a bottle of 18 year-old whiskey"
    I've obviously been attending the wrong baptism parties.

  • ||

    I spent a semester in France in college and it's not like French kids didn't go out to bars and drink a lot, they just didn't then end up in a pile of their own puke in a back alley. There were even bars that glorified taking shots and special drinks while everyone chanted. The thing is that they were experiencing something of a facination with their perception of the Irish in the same way that we have.

    Conclusion: We NEED more kebab stands in the US

  • JoAnn||

    If we lower the 21 limit, how else will colleges be able to prevent their students from abusing alcohol? Sure many of them break the law, but it at least serves some deterent, and allows for punishing those who abuse alcohol. I don't think children are fundamentally mature enough to handle alcohol responsibly until their 21st birthday, just look at all the binging that goes on in college.

  • ||

    If we lower the 21 limit, how else will colleges be able to prevent their students from abusing alcohol?

    When you catch your tail, let us know how it tastes.

  • ||

    Epi and Jesse,

    Cool. Thanks.

  • ||

    "I've obviously been attending the wrong baptism parties."

    heh. Yeah, it was a little over the top for a baptism... It even had a band and belly dancers!

  • ||

    Why hasn't MADD dropped the last D off their name yet?

    Oh right, that would be honest. (And probably copyright infringment of a vasyly superior organization.)

  • Neu Mejican||

    Substance abuse is best addressed through education. The drinking age doesn't really matter.

  • Citizen Nothing||

    "It even had a band and belly dancers!"
    Just what organization was the guest of honor being baptised into?

  • ||

    Start Drinking Early

    Truly, a headline that stands on its own. No post needed.

  • Thomas Paine\'s Goiter||

    It's noon here. I just had a drink. Early enough?


    Interesting comparison if you look at the numbers from Ireland, where the drinking age is higher and family/social drinking for teens is frowned upon. Same damn thing as the US!

  • BDB||

    "Interesting comparison if you look at the numbers from Ireland, where the drinking age is higher and family/social drinking for teens is frowned upon. Same damn thing as the US!"

    This seems to be common in all parts of the former British Empire, doesn't it? Whats up with that?

  • ||

    "Just what organization was the guest of honor being baptised into?"

    Just a regular Catholic baptism for a six-month old boy. The family is Venezuelan/Arab.

  • ||

    This is unfair. I was expecting an article that would make the case that early morning drinking is finally socially acceptable...

    I didn't know it was necessary to make a case for something that is so obviously true.

    BTW, if you look at the front page of the WashPost, this morning the safety nazis are already in full uproar about this. Isn't it amazing that anybody is left alive in such barbarian nations as the UK, Germany, France, and Italy, since they let the chilluns drink?

    I normally detest "moral equivalence" arguments, but social-con Americans criticizing the Saudi and Iranian governments over this stuff is pretty laughable.

  • Dagny T.||

    This is also true in Latin America. The drinking age is 18 but most kids begin drinking around 15. They get stupid drunk at that age but later most of them learn how to handle liquor.

    This makes lots more sense. In BC, Canada, the age is 19, but everyone I knew got over drinking to the point of stupidity in high school. It's a little more acceptable to act that obnoxious when you're 15 or 16, but by the time you get to college it's a lot more embarrassing.

    Nitpick: Most of Canada actually has the standard 12 grades. Only Ontario had grade 13, and they got rid of it about 5-6 years ago, as it got too expensive.

  • robc||

    I went to a baptism party last weekend and every table had a bottle of 18 year-old whiskey, as well as water, soda and coca-cola for mixing... Robc, you would have had a fit!!

    Nah, I respect property rights. Like I said, if it was **MY** bottle....

    I would have just mocked the people using the water/soda/etc.

  • robc||

    The family is Venezuelan/Arab.

    Some sort of OPEC arranged marriage?

  • Rhywun||

    this morning the safety nazis are already in full uproar about this



    They sure were, and with accompanying clips of "outraged parents" from all the media. They're gonna stream-roller this idea so hard those college presidents' heads will spin. I wouldn't rule out some sort of federal punishment for even considering the idea, either.

  • JoAnn||

    I wouldn't rule out some sort of federal punishment for even considering the idea, either.

    As they should, how are we supposed to stop college alcohol abuse if it is not forbidden.

  • First Little Pig||

    At one time in Tennessee the state law was (and maybe still is) that if you had a military ID you could buy alcohol (it is the volunteer state after all)

    Of course the drinking age should be 18 but another solution might be to allow college students with valid ID to drink (buy alcohol, etc). This would treat college "adults" as "adults" and it would encourage more people to stay in school.... You could also have the military exemption thus giving youthful adults who want to drink two choices...

  • First Little Pig||

    Obligatory "Jack" Mormon joke:

    Why do you always take two Mormons with you when you go fishing?

    Because if you took only one, he would drink all your beer.

  • ||

    If we lower the 21 limit, how else will colleges be able to prevent their students from abusing alcohol? - JoAnn | August 21, 2008, 11:38am



    Gee, I dunno, maybe a proper private college could, if its regents wanted to, could do all or some of these:


    • Ban alcohol on the entire campus.
    • Ban alcohol in some parts of campus, such as "dry dorms."
    • Buy out the bars and liquor stores in the campus neighborhood and replace them with "dry" tenants.
    • Require matriculating students to promise to "put the pin up."
    • Enforce these rules themselves, without relying on the cps and the courts.

    I'm just sayin'.

    As for this...


    "Interesting comparison if you look at the numbers from Ireland, where the drinking age is higher and family/social drinking for teens is frowned upon. Same damn thing as the US!"

    This seems to be common in all parts of the former British Empire, doesn't it? Whats up with that? - BDB | August 21, 2008, 12:12pm |



    It's a cultural remnant. The U.K., and Ireland when all of it was still under Perfidious Albion's thumb, adopted strict rules on public houses, including early closing hours. Drinking quickly was about the only way to get blasted when the pub had to shut before midnight. Ireland, the U.K. and the Scandahoovian countries were also spirit-drinking, rather than wine-drinking cultures, and that preference transferred to the U.S. and most of Canada. Of course both Britain and Ireland have great brewing traditions, and early versions of temperance that promoted moderation rather than abstinence were effusive in their praise for beer as the drink of (relatively) sober working men. The shorthand of [Responsible Protestants having a beer with lunch v. Drunken Papists Guzzling Whisk(e)y or Rum In Their Sloth] was a popular one.

    As for drinkin' and drivin' by under-18ers or 18-21ers, I'd have no problem with insurance companies discriminating between those who promise not to drink and those who don't, either by refusing to write policies for those who drink or charging us more than teetotalers.


    Kevin

  • ||

    "The family is Venezuelan/Arab.

    Some sort of OPEC arranged marriage?"

    I´m afraid I am not at liberty to talk about it.



    Just kidding. I should have been more precise: Venezuelan/Lebanese family.




    And that is all I'm allowed to say.

  • ||

    Start Drinking Early

    I started at about 9:00 this morning. Oh wait, you mean early like 16........never mind.

  • Jon||

    JoAnn | August 21, 2008, 11:38am | #
    Sure many of them break the law, but it at least serves some deterent, and allows for punishing those who abuse alcohol.


    As a recent college grad I feel qualified to tell you: It serves as no deterrent wha

  • Jon||

    Apparently copy and paste fails me...

    Should be:
    As a recent college grad I feel qualified to tell you: It serves as no deterrent whatsoever.

  • ||

    the driving age at 16 i'm fine with. Honestly my parent were getting kind of tired of driving my ass around by the time I was 16 (not much in public trans over here). I nedded to work to support.. well "dating". Movies don't get cheaper and it's not as if my parents were loaded. I wanted to buy my own clothes take myself to taekwondo 3 times a week etc etc. It's more economical I think. It scares me that it's being pushed higher. Then again we still consider kids infants until 18 anymore anyway. Unless they break the law then we can try anyone we feel like as an adult.

  • Neu Mejican||

    I propose a drinkers license be issued to all adults. You have to pass both a written test and a performance test.

    You lose points off your license if you overdue.

    Starting at age 15 and 9 months, kids can get a learners permit which allows them to drink in the presence of a licensed adult prior to taking their drinking test at age 18.

    $^)

  • Neu Mejican||

    er

    overdue = overdo...

  • ||

    Why not take the driver's test drunk, for a special license class which renders you immune to DUI prosecution?

  • ||

    the driving age at 16 i'm fine with. Honestly my parent were getting kind of tired of driving my ass around by the time I was 16 (not much in public trans over here). I nedded to work to support.. well "dating".

    I agree with you, but you know today's parents can't possibly let anything occur that has the potential to harm their precious little darlings.

  • JoAnn||

    As a recent college grad I feel qualified to tell you: It serves as no deterrent whatsoever.

    Well that just goes to show you that children today have no respect for the law. Children under 21 should not be drinking, after 21 moderation is OK.

  • ||

    I recall a study years ago that looked at alcoholism by nation. The US and Ireland were at the top and Germany and Israel at the bottom. (The USSR wasn't included due to lack of data.) The study found correlations with drinking as a family and lower alchoholism. We all know about the US. Ireland doesn't frown on drinking, but it has a culture where one leaves the home and goes off to a pub to drink. In both Germany and Israel drinking was the norm during meals in the home.

  • Jon||

    JoAnn | August 21, 2008, 2:30pm | #
    Well that just goes to show you that children today have no respect for the law. Children under 21 should not be drinking, after 21 moderation is OK.


    Even when the law is unjust?

    Laws don't make justice and laws don't make morality. Kindly pull your head out of your ass.

  • ||

    """Children under 21 should not be drinking, after 21 moderation is OK."""

    Sums up the attitude. 18, 19, and 20 year olds should be considered children.

  • JoAnn||

    Parents need to talk to their child about making the smart, responsible and legal choice to stay alcohol free until the age of 21.

  • Jim A||

    Even more fundamental is the issue of parents rights. If I allow my 15 year old to have a glass of wine at dinner I would be committing a felony in most US states. The "state as nanny" is making parenting a felony.

  • Jesse Walker||

    Come on, folks. I haven't even checked the IP logs and I know JoAnn is Juanita.

  • ||

    If we lower the 21 limit, how else will colleges be able to prevent their students from abusing alcohol?

    They won't*. It will be up to each young adult student to determine how much alcohol he or she drinks, if any. As it should be.

    We can educate young people about the effects and risks of drinking (though alot is already common knowledge). But those informed adults should be free to make their own decisions.

    * - Barring some campus policy, which most colleges probably won't implement.

  • ||

    Come on, folks. I haven't even checked the IP logs and I know JoAnn is Juanita.

    Does that mean I should not have responded?

  • ||

    I'll fool you all! I changed my IP to 127.0.0.2 and I'm routing through 192.168.0.3! Hah!

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Abduhl, I am up to the challenge. Send me slew of hot little high school honyes and I will gently

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    .....enlighten them as to the joys of red wine.

  • ||

    "Well that just goes to show you that children today have no respect for the law."

    No respect for the law? Hardly. It's more like no respect for bullshyt. Just because Nanny Sam says something is illegal doesn't make it wrong. Everyone that is 18-20 (and some younger) knows this. In the books, the drinking age is 21, in reality it is 18. The 21 drinking age is a complete and utter failure in social policy as it is so widely and blatantly ignored. It fosters a disrespect for legitimate laws; ask anyone under 21 if when they drink they are doing anything wrong, and the answer will almost unanimously be "no".

    This country is due to get this debate into the public eye. Hopefully it will take MADD with it.

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