Alcohol isn’t evil

Pilar Valdes, Assistant Pulse Editor

By all legal standards, you become an adult when you turn 18. You are able to vote, enlist in the army and serve on a jury. Yet, when you turn 18, you are still unable to legally purchase, have possession of or consume alcohol. Beyond its illegality, alcohol is extremely stigmatized in the United States. The reputation surrounding drinking perpetuates a culture of teenage rebellion. This rebellion manifests itself in irresponsible underage drinking and fake IDs.

The stigma surrounding alcohol roots back to two separate time periods in U.S. history: the Puritan foundation of the United States and the prohibition era. Alcohol consumption was a part of everyday life in the Puritan communities that founded America. Intoxication was frowned upon, but alcohol in general was not, merely because it was safer than drinking unclean water. As reform fervor became prevalent in the 1830s, consumption of alcohol also increased. This caused the rise of the temperance movement, which ultimately led to the idea of the prohibition period, where the manufacture, sale and consumption of alcohol was banned.

The 18th amendment was ratified on Jan. 16, 1919 and made the manufacturing and sale of alcohol a felony, attempting to make consumption nearly impossible. But this didn’t stop anybody. In fact, the amendment really only encouraged illegal drinking. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, alcohol consumption increased to about 60-70 percent of its pre-prohibition levels. In essence, the 18th amendment did the exact opposite of what it was intended to do.

So, when the 21st amendment was passed in 1933 repealing prohibition, many states set 21 as the minimum drinking age because that was the age to vote at that time. When the age to vote went down to 18, the drinking age did not. Just like during prohibition, teenagers are finding ways to rebel.

Teenagers drink. Teenagers are going to drink. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administrations, by 18, 70% of teens have had at least one drink. The way American culture treats drinking is what encourages teens to do so. The idea that alcohol is bad and something that kids need to be shielded from until they turn 21 causes children to have a misconstrued understanding of alcohol and how it can impact them. Countless studies have been done that record the amount of time teenagers spend watching T.V. and how often they see advertisements for any alcoholic beverage and how it may impact them. But the truth is that an advertisement for beer shouldn’t be treated any differently from an advertisement for a makeup or food product. They are both just advertisements, a company trying to sell a product to a consumer.

Teenagers are completely capable of understanding right from wrong. The set drinking age is essentially trying to shield teenagers from alcohol completely. The result is not a better understanding of how irresponsible alcohol consumption can be negative, but rather a culture of rebellion centered around irresponsibly consuming alcohol. Just like in the prohibition, underage drinking is so vilified that it has really only caused some teens to feel more compelled to try it. Such a high drinking  age encourages underage drinking because some teenagers want to seem more mature, an aspect of the rebellion that wouldn’t exist if the drinking age were lowered.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, teenagers consume more than 90 percent of their alcohol through binge drinking. This misuse of alcohol by teenagers is fostered by the stigma surrounding drinking that exists in the US. Teenagers drink in a way that is reckless and dangerous because of their desire to rebel.

Beyond the formation of unhealthy and dangerous drinking habits, the drinking age encourages teenagers to get some form of false identification. Used to buy alcohol or get into bars, having a fake ID comes with many risks. But to most teenagers, the thought of not fitting in with their friends is a much greater risk than any legal action that may be taken against them if caught with a fake ID.

The stigma surrounding drinking needs to end, mostly because it is untrue. Of course drinking is bad in excess, but so is anything. If you eat too much sugar you can die. So why treat alcohol any differently? Teenagers can understand that alcohol can be dangerous, but only after they understand that there is nothing to rebel against. End the stigma, end the rebellion. The same goes for the legal drinking age.

The drinking age needs to be lowered to 18, and eventually should be completely eradicated. Although it may be a long and difficult process for lawmakers, the results will more than likely be positive. First of all, underage drinking crimes will decrease significantly, even if the drinking age is lowered to just 18. Most students go to college at 18, and college campuses are notorious hubs of drinking and partying. By lowering the drinking age, arrests on campus are certain to go down as well.

At the end of the day, drinking isn’t something that should be looked down upon. I’m sure wine goes wonderfully with certain foods, and bars are probably a great place to get together with friends (these are guesses based on things my parents say).  But until the drinking age is lowered and the stigma is gone, there will still be teenagers trying to sneak into bars, sneak drinks from their parents and buying fake IDs.