All About Beer Magazine - Volume 26, Issue 3
July 1, 2005 By

In July, our misbegotten immoral and illegal law against young 18-20 year old adults drinking, the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984, becomes 21-years old itself. I’m no lawyer, but I say ILLEGAL, because the government threatens to cut federal highway funds to any state which refuses to outlaw “under 21” drinking.

It has been my understanding that the XIV, XV, XIX, and XXVI Amendments define and extend citizenship rights and privileges to Americans of all races, female persons, and 18-21 year olds, respectively. What right does the Federal Government have to withhold Highway funds? Let’s call it blackmail! The XXI Amendment did repeal the XVIII Amendment leaving alcohol use regulation to the respective states. If it weren’t for Prohibition, the drinking age in America would probably have evolved in the same way it did in Europe. Originally, a young person could be served if he could put his money on the counter and pick up his drink. They became a bit moralistic after WWII. Now drinking ages are 16 and 18 depending on the country.

As binge drinking continues to escalate in this country, many are beginning to realize that we, as one of only 5 countries on the planet (Chile, Egypt, Honduras, Russia, Samoa, and U.S.) who don’t allow all of their citizens to drink until they are 21, are making a huge mistake.

Alcohol usage is an important part of Western Society. We are a country where some 70% of the total population drinks moderately of those libations (and where only about 7% of the drinking population cause problems). Instead of learning to manage alcohol consumption, our young are having zero tolerance shoved down their throats, compelling them to do their drinking on the sly, with no supervision or guidance by adults, and often in automobiles. They are being led into this by their own peers whose motives might include getting their friends so inebriated that they cannot function and leaving them in dire risk of alcohol poisoning. That is exactly what happens over and over again in our society. Perhaps we expect too much. After all, if you have to wait five years for a drink, maybe you should party a bit.

Binge Drinking is Becoming More Intrusive

The last several years have led to what seems to me to be a huge increase in binge-21 deaths among our young adult citizens. Recently the New York Times railed on about binging deaths among young folks on their 21st birthdays. Binging is defined by the neo-prohibitionists as 5 or more drinks on a single day (you only get 4 if you happen to be a female of our species). Kate Zernike (“Drinking Game Can be a Deadly Rite of Passage”, New York Times, March 12, 2005.) rages about what could easily be called an epidemic when she describes a home video of an unidentified Fargo, ND, young man trying to do “21 for 21” at the behest of his friends. This is to imbibe 21 shots on one’s 21st birthday in a “power hour”: that short time between midnight and bar closing at 1am. A “shot” is usually 1.5-ounce/45-ml of 45 to 50% ABV, that would mean that had he been successful he could have consumed 21 ounces of pure ethanol, enough to kill him, especially if he were small of stature or female. In that particular bar, near the North Dakota State University campus, one young citizen had died, and another went into a coma in the previous five years. One fellow actually managed to consume 24 shots!!

In my case, I think I had several drinks on the night of my 21st birthday (1947), but I don’t remember anything special. I had been drinking regularly, as a U.S.Marine from my seventeenth year (1943) on. In those days, any male in uniform could buy a drink anywhere in the U.S. My drinking partners in that era were all U.S. Marines. Had I overindulged, my buddies would have surely gotten me back to our base, but I would have been in severe trouble with my peers. Never mind that our sergeant would not have been even slightly amused. In short, I knew better. Peer pressure can work both ways. One could drink in the U.S. military of that era, but one dared not dishonor it by bad public behavior. One’s peers were far less likely to push too far in these matters. The only time I had trouble buying a drink was after I had returned home in June of 1946, at age 20. THEN I had to join the Veterans of Foreign Wars to buy drinks at the local VFW club house bar.

Dangerous Abstinence

Actually, as I see it, it is very dangerous to make young people wait until they are 21 to consume. They cause us no end of trouble for that reason. Where did the reader go when he or she was 18? Did you abstain? Or did you go out in someone’s car to get totally blotto?

Even in our troubled society, there are successful groups (Jews, Italians, Greeks, French, and the offspring of those who work in the alcohol industry) who manage alcohol consumption moderately and who educate their young to respect and enjoy this wonderful substance in a supportive environment. Young people from these groups rarely cause trouble from so-called binging.

The Europeans view this matter quite differently than we do. There is little or no social pressure to drink and great intolerance to alcohol abuse. Alcohol beverages are considered normal fare, even offered in some high school cafeterias. A British report declared it “impractical” to have a drinking limit “higher than the age of majority….” Other Europeans concluded that raising the drinking age (from 16 to 18) would be useless because the older ones would buy it for the young. In Belgium, children are allowed taefelbier, at 2%ABV. But of course that’s “old” Europe.

We consider our young citizens of 18 to be old enough to vote, get married, start a family, go deep in debt, join the armed forces and learn to kill or get themselves killed. But are they allowed to have a social beer at the end of the day? A glass of wine with dinner and family? No. Are our teen soldiers allowed to have a bit of libation while on R&R (“rest and recuperation”) in Qatar or Bahrain with their older peers? Probably not legally, but I’ll wager that they can get it.

I remember my own service in WWII, and I know that it was less than two weeks after the invasion of Okinawa that there was at least one still operational; and that at what became an air base VERY close to the battle lines. Technically, there IS no booze allowed to our forces in Iraq, after all it’s a situation where one needs all the sobriety one can manage, but I’ll bet it can be found all the same.