Alcohol Prohibition Endangers Youth

Rachel Jin, Lifestyle Editor

For teenagers, it seems as though laws are meant to be broken. There are state laws prohibiting drugs and graffiti, but these don’t seem to hamper the illicit crack sales or spray painted defamation of public structures.

Perhaps the law most often broken by high schoolers is the prohibition on drinking alcohol. California state law may dictate that people under the age of 21 can not consume alcohol, but that doesn’t seem to deter the plastered 18-year-old stumbling down the block, trying to find his or her car after a late night on any given weekend in the affluent neighborhoods of Lamorinda.

According to CBS, a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry showed that 78% of teens had consumed alcohol in 2012.

It may seem like the over-21 rule is supposed to somehow ensure the safety of young people who may not be “responsible enough” to drink responsibly and look out for themselves. However, I think setting the drinking age at 21 actually poses a threat to safety and health.

Drinking laws do little to prohibit actual drinking. Prohibiting drinking just forces those under age “under the radar.” Teens simply congregate in hidden, unsafe places where they behave recklessly without supervision.

This brings up an interesting paradox, one that is explained by an episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.  After experiencing an increase in customers at their bar, the owners come to realize that a majority of the crowd was high school students who heard that the bar didn’t card. Reflecting on his own high school experience, Mac, a central character, realizes that allowing these teens to drink at the bar may provide for a safer alternative than forcing them out on the streets.

“We’d get kicked out of some bar,” he reflects, “and then what did we do? We would get a bunch of 40’s from a homeless guy, and we’d go sit in some park, right? And what would happen? We would almost get raped, and/or murdered, and/or stabbed by crackheads in Fairmount Park.”

Mac adds, “And do you know what else happened? We drove Nikki Potnick’s car into a tree on Kelly Drive.”

While It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia may be a satirical comedy where events are exaggerated, it does bring up a good point. According to the Institute of Alcohol Studies, “The study of just under 10,000 15- and 16-year-olds in the north west of England, a region with particularly high levels of alcohol consumption and harm, found that likelihood of binge drinking and also of harm from drinking was substantially higher in children who drank outside the family environment in parks, streets or other public places compared with those whose access to alcohol was through their parents.”

The fear of legal repercussions often forces teens to drink in unsafe places, where they are less likely to be caught, but also more likely to face danger. Not wanting to arouse parental suspicions, many drive home drunk, increasing their risk, and the risk to others.

There may be health problems linked to drinking as a teenager, as alcohol does have the potential to impair underdeveloped brains. But no one I know has ever shied away from alcohol solely because they are afraid of the health risks. Logical reasoning isn’t going to stop most kids from drinking.

Finally, there’s the fact that some teens use drinking as an act of rebellion. Having been to a couple of sleep-away summer camps, I find that I tend to take a list of everything my mother doesn’t let me do (dying my hair, cliff jumping, etc.) and I try to check them all off in the span of 3 weeks. For example, I had never felt an urge to dye my hair, but I decided to do it the summer before 8th grade simply because I was told I could not. I thought that breaking the rules would be “cool” and “edgy” (I was only 12, if that explains anything).

I have a friend who, when I met her, had only had a taste of alcohol in her entire life. She told me she hated the taste and didn’t enjoy the experience at all. However, she texted me a few months later: “I want to drink so bad right now.” I asked her why, since, considering she hated it, there was nothing really in it for her. Her response: “Because all the popular kids are doing it.”

This friend isn’t the only person I know who has told me she drinks because breaking the law makes her “cooler” than her peers.

If the drinking age was lowered, I’m inclined to believe that the “cool” factor of drinking would be significantly reduced. Loosening the restrictive measures surrounding alcohol consumption will lessen its allure.

This is not to say that all drinking laws should be dropped, of course. I don’t advocate for absolute lawlessness surrounding alcohol and I definitely don’t advocate handing beers to your 6-year-old sister. I’m not saying that there are no benefits from regulation. However, I do think that the current alcohol laws should be reformed with these additional considerations in mind.