An Intergrated Attitude Toward Drinking

I recently engaged in a conversation with work colleagues regarding the pros and cons of returning the drinking age to 18. As most of them were under the age of 30, they were unaware of the history of Minimum Legal Drinking Age (MLDA) over the past 4 decades. For those of you who don’t recall, between 1970 and 1976, approximately 30 states lowered their MLDA from 21 to 18, 19, or 20. Thankfully, this was shorted lived as highway statistics showed a marked increase in traffic deaths caused by young drunk drivers in most of the corresponding states. In response to those findings, Congress was quick to respond with the Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984. This in turn prompted states to raise their legal age for the purchase of alcohol to 21 rather than risking losing millions of dollars in federal highway funds. At the time, I was a resident in one of the 30 states which had lowered its MLDA to 18. And so, for the short span of one year I first found myself legal to drink and then not.
Through the course of our discussion, we rehashed many of the old arguments both pro and con: “18 is the age of adulthood in the United States, you receive the right to vote and join the army to die for your country; adults should have the right to make their own decision regarding alcohol consumption.” Someone pointed out that increasing the MLDA to 21 has actually had disastrous consequences as it has basically driven underage drinking underground to unsupervised places such as frat parties which can promote binge drinking and other unsafe behaviors. In the course of this debate, one young colleague suggested that education is the answer, “We must teach people to drink responsible before the age of 21”
I’ve often felt that compared to Europe, the United States seems to be confused regarding what is the right attitude for alcohol consumption. I’ve even wondered if some of this confusion lies in the differences in drinking habits between Catholics (I would include Orthodox) and Protestants. It’s been my impression that Protestants tend to exhibit a more bi-polar attitude toward the consumption of alcohol. By that, I am referring to my own un-scientific survey which suggest that many Protestants can be placed into one of two camps: those that favor total alcohol abstinence (i.e. the Temperance movement of the 1920’s) or those prone to binge drinking.
From my experiences with family & friends, I have found the Catholic/Orthodox approach to alcohol consumption to be within the context of a family or social festivity. It is first taught at home as part of a celebration or mourning Recalling high school graduation parties when the MLDA was 18, it was common to find beer (or Ouzo at Greek/Orthodox parties) being consumed responsible by adults over 18. Here, moderation has to be the key. Conversely, many Protestant parties tended to be dry affairs. When the calendar then advanced to September, the start of the collegiate year, it found many Protestant freshmen unprepared to exhibit moderation when faced with their first opportunity of free access to alcohol.
My observations may not be quite so “out-in-left-field” as you might think, as a quick internet search yielded some interesting articles. One I found very enlightening can be found here.
In the end, I will always fall back to the wonderful insight of G. K. Chesterton who summed it up best with his rules for drinking:
“Drink because you are happy, but never because you are miserable. Never drink when you are wretched without it, or you will be like the grey-faced gin-drinker in the slum; but drink when you would be happy without it, and you will be like the laughing peasant of Italy. Never drink because you need it, for this is rational drinking, and the way to death and hell. But drink because you do not need it, for this is irrational drinking, and the ancient health of the world.”

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