Binge Drinking Isn’t a Question of Age

I was at the Les Nubians show at the Highline Ballroom last night when I saw a pair of guys stumble through the crowd and amble toward the bar. They managed to annoy the event photographer, a waitress and another woman before they moved 10 feet. When they reached the bar the two men ordered shots of Hennessy as quickly as their slurred speech would allow. They were clearly intoxicated.

This scene made me chuckle because both these men were clearly in their 40’s. A debate has been percolating for the past few weeks about lowering the drinking age to 18 from 21. Supporters of this measure claim that it will reduce binge drinking. Opponents claim that it will increase deaths due to drinking. These two old drunks showed me that both sides are missing the point.

I don’t think binge drinking is a product of age. You can be irresponsible with liquor at 18, 28, 38, and beyond. How old you are isn’t really the point. Setting the drinking age at 21 is probably an arbitrary choice. Arguing about which age people can drink seems about as productive as arguing whether its better to jump off a 20 story building or a 30 story building. Both jumps will get you killed.

I think this argument about drinking age ignores the more fundamental issue. Many people in the United States have a schizophrenic relationship with drinking in particular and pleasure in general. We’re not really comfortable with the concept of moderation. We either want nothing or everything. Many of us either abstain from alcohol or we get drunk out of our minds. Binge drinking is a product of our culture as Americans.

When I went to Paris, a seven year old boy gave me tips on what wine to buy at the store (he was a little stuck up, but it was a damn fine choice the little bastard made) . When I was in Barbados, it seemed like all the cab drivers, sailors and hotel staff drank on the job without traffic accidents, sunken ships or mismanaged properties (that I saw anyway). I mention these examples to show that relationships with liquor exist in other countries and cultures that is part of the family and social system. Your experience with alcohol as a child will shape how you deal with it. If drinking is a normal part of growing up, your attitude toward drinking won’t be excessive in either direction. If drinking becomes a taboo subject, reserved for Thanksgivings with your drunken uncle, then you might decide to abuse liquor as soon as you get to the age where rebellion is part of your identity.

I see drunks of all ages when I go out. They are as difficult to deal with at 51 as they are at 21. If the Amethyst Initiative and MADD really want to solve the problem of binge drinking, they might want to look at the culture that promotes binging, instead of arguing about age.

Have fun.