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“They finally snuck in the handles,” someone yelled over the music, “They’re in the bathroom. Go get some it’s going quick.”
Everyone in the basement around sophomore exchange student Ana Vesilinovich* cheered. People surged to the bathroom, hoping to get a drink of the disappearing McCormicks vodka.
This is so different from home, she couldn’t help but think. This is so American.
It was her first house party, her first time experiencing the secrecy American teenagers have to use with alcohol. It was all so foreign for her coming from Austria, where 16-year-olds are allowed to drink beer and wine.
Vesilinovich says in Austria it’s casual. It’s a beer with dinner or a couple drinks at the club. Here it was completely different. It seemed to her that the party was defined by the presence of alcohol.
“There was a moment, right at the beginning of the party where the American kids thought we weren’t going to have alcohol and everyone was so disappointed,” Vesilinovich said, “I remember being shocked, that’s just not how it is in Austria.”
The United States is one of six countries with a drinking age of 21, the highest legal age in the world. It is also three years older than 18, the most common minimum age for alcohol consumption.
But World Health Organization studies show that, while countries in Europe had more teens drinking, the United States had more teens reaching dangerous levels of alcohol consumption.
Sophomore Dina Hansen also feels like there is a certain mentality in America to get wasted that didn’t exist in her previous home country, Denmark. It seems to her no one just drinks for a slight buzz, but that the majority of American teens have the intention of getting wasted.
In fact, 55 percent of East seniors polled by the Harbinger* consumed alcohol last weekend and out of those 77 percent drank until they were drunk. Whereas in Denmark she said it is rare one of her friends gets drunk.
Senior Bill Smith* agrees that there is a mindset to get hammered when there is alcohol, and certain kids feel like alcohol is the only way to have fun.
“I drink every weekend,” Smith said, “I do drink to get drunk pretty much every time.”
Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Dr. Marc Garcelon believes that American parents often shy away from having conversations with their teenagers about drinking because it’s illegal.
“From my personal experience it strikes me that the more drinking is approached and taught by a family as a moderate, social part of life, then the less the chance there is of binge drinking and alcoholism,” Garcelon said.
Not only does Hansen also feel like there is more of a mindset to get trashed, but there are possibly more dangerous ramifications in the U.S. because of the low driving age.
She says in the United States there is no option for underage drinkers but to get a ride or to drive themselves home. She said it’s not uncommon to be faced with the decision of driving after drinking or getting in trouble.
And SRO Officer Chad Boling says that 21 is the age at which people have developed enough mentally and emotionally to make the right decisions when it comes to drinking, like choosing to take a cab home after a night of drinking.
“I think 18 is still an age where some people have hit their maturity and some people haven’t,” Boling said, “At 21 you have been through your first stages of college and gotten into the rhythm of being an adult.”
Boling also says that when teenagers consume alcohol they lack experience and don’t know their limits. He says this can then lead to overconsumption and even alcohol poisoning.
But Hansen feels that since 18-year-olds are legally adults they should be allowed to make the decision to drink or not. She says especially since 18 is the age a person can choose to risk their life for their country, that they should at least be allowed to have a sip of alcohol.
Principal John McKinney believes that the drinking age being 21 makes sure that individuals are able to physically and emotionally handle drinking alcohol, and make the choices that follow that consumption.
He also realizes that it is unrealistic to think high schoolers will never be in situations that alcohol is present. He says since high school kids are learning so much about themselves while in school, it isn’t surprising alcohol is one of the things they experiment with. But according to McKinney, the best thing kids can do is be is educated about the physical risks, emotional risks and legal ramifications.
“You can drink from the time you’re 21 until the day you die,” McKinney said. “You’re only a kid once, and what I want is for kids to enjoy this time, to enjoy the rest of their life, without ruining that with alcohol.”