I remember being fascinated by the level of respect and control young Europeans had when they drank. Their explanation was they had been exposed to alcohol almost their entire lives, as enjoying a glass of wine at dinner is not uncommon for children as young as 12. These kids knew how much alcohol they could handle because they were taught about it in an upfront, transparent way. That's not to say Europeans won't sometimes overdo it (READ: the Irish), but as a whole, they seem to approach alcohol more responsibly than young Americans do.
“It’s always blown my mind how American college culture is so focused on drinking, while most of the students are doing this illegally,” said Dr. Patrick Neustatter, author, retired general practitioner, and current medical director at Lloyd Moss Free Clinic. I originally contacted him to give me some insight into the medical aspect of drinking at 18 as opposed to 21 (more on that in a second), but Neustatter, a native Englishman, had a unique perspective on the issue.
“I’m not an expert in this field, of course -- but I will say that as someone who grew up in England, and has lived in America for several decades, I can say it seems like younger Europeans do have a more respectful, controlled attitude towards consuming alcohol,” he told me.
This study, however, conducted by the Prevention Research Center, contends that European teens spend more time intoxicated than Americans, which is to some, example enough that the European model of a lower drinking age would be harmful. But, the research never fully details if this intoxication leads to problems like more frequent car crashes, violent crimes, cases of alcoholism, and alcohol-related illnesses and/or deaths, which is pertinent information given that a study by the World Health Organization showed that even though Americans drink less than Europeans, we die more from alcohol-related causes.
And even despite the age-based prohibition, young drinkers still overdo it. The number of reported cases of alcohol poisoning rose from 779 to 2,290 between 1998 and 2005 for 18-24-year-olds in the US.
Which makes me wonder, if European kids get intoxicated more often, but are more responsible with their intoxication, isn’t that... better?
Alcohol to an American under age 21 is “forbidden fruit,” that entices with its “Don’t do this!” mystique, and forces kids into risky behavior. I don’t need a study to back me up. I was a teenager who -- to be totally honest -- engaged in a fair share of illegal drinking. The illegal aspect encouraged me away from any controlled settings like bars and restaurants, and forced me to drink and have parties wherever and whenever we could find a secret and often unsafe location (woods at night, abandoned houses, haunted mansions, frat parties, etc.)
You know where kids consistently get into massive amounts of shit? Frat parties. You know who stops going to frat parties and straight to the bar once they turn 21? Everyone.