So When Can The Boy Start Drinking Then?
January 25, 2002 8:01 AM   Subscribe

So When Can The Boy Start Drinking Then? From February 1 you'll have to be 16 to order an alcoholic drink in Portugal. We Portuguese were the last bastion in Europe - with no age limit at all - but have finally given in the to pressures from the European Union. Yet young people here enjoy drinking but rarely get drunk. Age limits vary wildly all over the world and the debate on the ideal drinking age rages on. The U.S. is still the strictest country of all. And yet public displays(and tacit approval)of drunkenness seem to be far more prevalent in the stricter countries than in those who have more liberal legislation. So what should be the minimum drinking age? [The main link, in Portuguese, refers to the political battles that preceded the new law. Interestingly, it reports the Portuguese government resisted EU pressure to limit 16-year-olds to beer and wine, more or less saying "alcohol is alcohol - you can get drunk on anything - so it would be silly to limit young people's choices." ]
posted by MiguelCardoso (40 comments total)

 
Important point to make about US drinking laws, before misinformation starts getting spread around: The US drinking age used to be 18, but was raised to 21 by every state nearly simultaneously in an attempt to reduce drunk driving deaths. (The federal government essentially blackmailed the states into it by threatening to deny them federal highway maintenance funds unless they raised the drinking age.) The current age limit should therefore not be viewed as a moral judgement in the way that Prohibition should -- it was a purely pragmatic decision. Presumably, the drinking age will never be lowered again simply because doing so would cause a few more thousand deaths a year. (Whether or not that tradeoff is acceptable depends on your political leanings, of course.)
posted by tweebiscuit at 8:07 AM on January 25, 2002


Twee- perhaps if you raised the driving age and lowered the drinking age, younguns' would be less likely to drive drunk. By the time their driving license comes around, they already understand effects of alcohol on the body and know their limit.

I think it's silly though, a boy/girl can go off to war, kill some people, but not crack open a can of Coors after the job is done. What sort of message is that? You can buy a Smith and Wesson ( sp? ) but not a Bartles & James?
posted by remlapm at 8:35 AM on January 25, 2002


I'd like to see a national driving age limit of 21, myself. Not that it'd happen.
posted by alumshubby at 8:37 AM on January 25, 2002


The raising the driving age (or lowering the drinking age) to match has always seemed nice n logical to me; but the practical snag on the driving issue is too strong: there's no working public transit system in the country that could make up for the number of drivers that'd be lost. Teenagers wouldn't be able to do anything, because there's virtually no bus service in most communities. And there's no legislator who could survive a "lower the drinking age" proposal -- at least not until more of the 18-21 crowd actually votes!
posted by BT at 8:52 AM on January 25, 2002


It's an abomination of logic and sentimentality.
posted by rushmc at 8:54 AM on January 25, 2002


BT -- excellent point. US mass transit sucks -- understandably, since the country is so spread out. Still, if only Amtrak were cheaper...

Here's my plan: until you're twenty-one, you can either drink OR drive, literally. If you get a driver's license, you forfeit your right to drink, and vice versa. (The DMV could issue both driver's licenses and "drinking licenses.") What do you guys think?
posted by tweebiscuit at 8:56 AM on January 25, 2002


Tweebiscuit, that's a great idea about the drink OR drive option. Absolutely brilliant. Of course, a kid who had a drinking license would feel obliged to use it as often as possible, probably causing the number of teenage alcoholics to skyrocket. But that leads to another point: There may be a socially beneficial purpose to not having any drinking age at all. If you let kids start drinking as soon and as young as they feel motivated to do so, you would be able to quickly identify those who were genetically or otherwise inclined toward alcoholism. They could then be targeted for early intervention and treatment, so that by the time they were grownups, they'd have this alcohol thing behind them, and wouldn't be out making spectacles of themselves at stadiums.
posted by Faze at 9:12 AM on January 25, 2002


All Europe's teenagers envy the early age you can get a driving license in the U.S. I actually think tweebiscuit's idea, even if he's joshing, is quite good.

However, as the second link points out - and numerous other studies show(I can dig up a link if pressed) - young people in countries with lower drinking ages are responsible for far less accidents than other age-groups. They're actually more conscientous.

My own anecdotal experience bears this out.

My own view, however, is that it is seriously wrong, morally, politically and even philosophically, to confuse the issues.

Rushmc's pithy comment rings absolutely true.

You have drinking laws, driving laws and drunk-driving laws. They should remain separate.

Wife-battering, rape and all sorts of other crimes are linked to drugs and alcohol. If you were to try to tie them all together you'd have legislative, Brave New World, totalitarian hell.

Driving laws are one thing. I'd be in favour, for instance, of taking someone's license away forever for one incident of driving drunk.

Drinking laws are another. Even if you don't have a driving license and never intend to drive in your entire life in the U.S. you can still be convicted for having a beer, in your own home, if you're 20.

Laws should reflect public moral standards and common sense. In the U.K., as the third link proves, a child over the age of five can drink any alcoholic beverage in his/her home with parental consent.

The disparity of laws, in my opinion, points to the essentially voluble and fickle nature of drinking laws.

As remlapm implies, if you are allowed to vote, own a gun, be a soldier and kill people, marry, be executed, star in porn films, be sued for alimony, patrimony, etc....well I think you deserve a drink!
posted by MiguelCardoso at 9:22 AM on January 25, 2002


I like the idea of getting rid of the drinking age entirely. Right now, all kids hear about drinking is don't do it, and doing it can kill you. Then we send them off to college where liquor is freely available, without them ever having had the chance to learn what their limits are. We baby-proof our homes, put training wheels on kids' bikes, we give new drivers learning permits- all so they can learn how to do something, before they're allowed to do it on their own. So why, when it comes to alcohol (and sex, for that matter,) do we put blinders on them, then reasonably expect them to behave as though they have years of experience to make wise choices when the blinders are suddenly gone?
posted by headspace at 9:25 AM on January 25, 2002


Having 21 as the legal drinking age is idiotic, for all the reasons stated above. But American culture is now so inherently prohibitive about it that I'm not sure we can undo the damage and erase the mystique we have built around booze. Saying "You must not drink, it's bad, m'kay?" makes the average U.S. teenager want to try it that much more. Only by emulating Europe can we eliminate freshman drinking deaths. If I had been exposed to sensible drinking early enough, perhaps I would have realized that the point of drinking is NOT to get sloppy, and I wouldn't have frittered away my freshman and sophomore years of college curled up inside a keg.
posted by Vacaloca at 9:41 AM on January 25, 2002


heh, I'm just imagining a kid having a "Sex learner's permit" and flashing it to random women.... :)

"would you help me learn about sex?"
posted by srw12 at 9:45 AM on January 25, 2002


I guess "a kid" should be replaced with "me as a child" on that last one
posted by srw12 at 9:47 AM on January 25, 2002


I think a large proportion of teenagers in this country are coddled, and treated as children for too long. They are not trusted with any meaningful responsibility or decision-making, and then are expected to mature overnight when they reach twenty-one.

I was raised in what I suppose would be called the "European" way, being allowed alcohol from a young age with meals, and was allowed to drink at home when I was in High School, but only at home.

Of course I am now a raging dipsomaniac, but that's beside the point.

I also got my driver's license at 16, and looking back it's lucky I didn't kill anyone including myself. I think 18 is a much more realistic driving age. But in both cases, the real problem is not the age, but the intelligence. An 18 year old goober is just as likely to drive drunk as a 16 year old goober. The crux of the problem is young people's education and self-worth, both factors that can be at least partially improved by parents.
posted by Kafkaesque at 9:47 AM on January 25, 2002


Vacaloca: too true. In Portugal(i.e. me, my brother, my sister and my daughters)you're supposed to have your first drinking lesson before you're 14. This means getting drunk, vomiting, making a fool of yourself, having everyone laugh at you, experiencing the horrors of the first hangover; being thoroughly embarrassed.

So that you'd never do it again. Well... not often.

After that, it's just not on to be drunk. There's a civilizing force at work. Young people here actually start counting drinks after they're 15, drinking lots of water, telling everyone present "I'm getting drunk" long before they are, so as to pre-empt themselves.

Their peers help by saying they're lushes - so that they don't turn out to be lushes.

It strikes me as very strange that the greatest and most freedom-loving and fighting nation on Earth, which celebrates difference and individuality, should be so puritanically strait-laced when it comes to something as controllable as alcohol.

On a tangent, ex-alcoholic Bush - who can no longer have the one drink, yet still chokes on a pretzel - and his poor daughter who is pilloried for enjoying a Margarita - seem like evident signs of this strange contradiction in the Land of the Free.

Your revolution taught us the value of freedom - not the other way round. So why is it you who now seem to be now turning back?
posted by MiguelCardoso at 10:00 AM on January 25, 2002


However, as the second link points out - and numerous other studies show(I can dig up a link if pressed) - young people in countries with lower drinking ages are responsible for far less accidents than other age-groups. They're actually more conscientous.

I think we're looking at a case of post hoc, ergo propter hoc...people assuming that European kids are more mature and cautious because they learn the responsibilities that must come with drinking at an earlier age.

I suspect that European teens are more mature in general because of the independence they allowed to have. They are given the opportunity to "try on" adult roles at an earlier age, and expected to take on responsibilities (yet still be kids). European teens are certainly more traveled and cultured than their American counterparts. I can't tell you how many people here in Washington, DC look at me in awe when I tell them I ride the bus. ("You ride the bus?! How did you know what to do???")

Perhaps it's the mass transit, perhaps it's their school schedules (structured similar to college class schedules), perhaps it's the alcohol. But I certainly agree with Kafkaesque that American kids are babied way too long.
posted by jennak at 10:13 AM on January 25, 2002


I can fly down the highway in a 3000 pound machine. I can ship off to Afghanistan and shoot Taliban soldiers.

It's illegal for me to have a beer, however.

Spare me the hypocrisy.
posted by tomorama at 10:15 AM on January 25, 2002


Anecdotal evidence: when I transferred from a large German university to a Baptist college in Mississippi, I was shocked by the amount of senseless drinking going on. The Germans had long learned to drink within the limits of reason, but the Southerners (the same age but not legally allowed to drink, especially not at this school) got utterly shitfaced any time they had the opportunity.

The moral: Forbidden fruit gets you twice as wasted.
posted by muckster at 10:19 AM on January 25, 2002


Of course, if your an oddball like me and the taste of all alcohol makes you retch. This ain't much of a problem. (though I've had "girly" drinks like Mudslides or Pina Colada once or twice)
posted by owillis at 10:25 AM on January 25, 2002


Girl Drink Drunk: The Owillis Story.

"It tastes just like candy!"
posted by Kafkaesque at 10:30 AM on January 25, 2002


That's the American way. Society got a problem? Shield kids from it and make them deal with it when they're old enough to have to deal with it on their own. Or just make it illegal. Lots of drunk drivers on the road? No, you don't have to teach responsible drinking or build a code of behavior into your society! Just outlaw the friggin' drinks!

They should at least open it up to parental consent. You could get a government-approved letter of parental consent (for drinking in the absence of your parents) and it could be printed on screaming neon yellow paper. If you're mature (and sober) enough to be willing to subject yourself to the potential humiliation of whipping out your dayglo writ, then you're probably mature (and sober) enough to enjoy an alcoholic beverage with responsibility.
posted by MonkeyMeat at 10:41 AM on January 25, 2002


Girl Drink Drunk: The Owillis Story.
Tee-hee! Makes my head feel all funny.
posted by owillis at 10:51 AM on January 25, 2002


It strikes me as very strange that the greatest and most freedom-loving and fighting nation [...] should be so puritanically strait-laced when it comes to something as controllable as alcohol.

ahhhh, but remember that our (americans') Puritan ancestors have a significant influence on the culture as well. they may have been looking for freedom, but it was the freedom to not drink, dance, etc., etc. and to call out anyone who wasn't following their code.

it's a constant tension in our culture - the frontiersman, Wild-West, laissez-faire attitude vs. the puritan, shining-city-on-the-hill, moralistic attitude.

historically & socially, they can combine in some really weird ways. (I'll avoid re-writing any of my papers from college in this space!)
posted by epersonae at 11:02 AM on January 25, 2002


American culture is best described as functional schizophrenia.
posted by yesster at 11:16 AM on January 25, 2002


Speaking as someone who has been hit by a drunk driver, why is this such an issue? Most car accidents certainly aren't drinking related. The current MADD mindset of knowing when to give up your keys is pretty silly. An inebriated person doesn't usually make informed decisions so expecting people to be responsible to help reduce accidents is a little flawed.

If we remove all the criminality from the equation then we should end up with things like a federal ride home program, like many local communties have. Dealing with drinking as a social problem instead of a criminal one makes more sense.

A society dependant on automobiles should have back-ups and failsafes like a drive home program for everyone. A free (tax-payed) program would do a lot more to save lives and capital then any age limit could ever do. Of course in the US the protests over socialism and nanny-states would be deafening.

MADD and other organizations could be doing a lot more if they pushed for this kind of national program instead of villyfing the drunk. Like the war on drugs have shown us, you get better results by treating drugs as a social problem and not a criminal problem.
posted by skallas at 11:26 AM on January 25, 2002


I've seen Owillis: The Girl Drink Drunk in action. Its not a pretty sight. Lots of flailing and many requests to "tell me about the rabbits again, George." He also told me that he was actually a baptist minister doing research on how the "satanic lefties" in Los Angeles lived. Then he got in a car, drove to Houston, and payed a visit to Cliff Baxter. Wish I knew what he was doing there...
posted by thebigpoop at 11:26 AM on January 25, 2002


A free (tax-payed) program would do a lot more to save lives and capital then any age limit could ever do. Of course in the US the protests over socialism and nanny-states would be deafening.

Hell, I'm all for socialism. The reason I have... er... would drive home drunk even if this were available is that my car would be at the bar when I woke up in the morning. How the heck am I going to get it back? Will I take a taxi? Get another free ride? Call a friend just as hungover as me to help me pick it up? Its a logistical NIGHTMARE! Heh.
posted by thebigpoop at 11:31 AM on January 25, 2002


Your revolution taught us the value of freedom - not the other way round. So why is it you who now seem to be now turning back?

Why indeed? :(

The vast majority of Americans are ignorant regarding the origins, nature, and ramifications of the very freedoms that they are so quick to wave their flags for. They enjoy saying that they are in favor of "freedom" as a general concept, but most will reject almost all specifically elucidated examples when pressed.

The God of America is not the Dollar, as is often assumed, but the Simplistic.
posted by rushmc at 11:37 AM on January 25, 2002


The reason I have... er... would drive home drunk even if this were available is that my car would be at the bar when I woke up in the morning. How the heck am I going to get it back?

The drive program can drive you home in your own car. The driver can just radio to be picked up or as some communities have the driver folds up his bike into your trunk and rides back. Or leaving your car is just a sacrifice you'll have to make.
posted by skallas at 11:38 AM on January 25, 2002


Re: Teenagers can't do anything without a car because mass trasnit sucks.

Bullshit. How did teenagers get by ~100 years ago and before, no cars, no mass transit save for intercity trains? Teenagers don't need great mobility, and they can walk or wait for the (crappy yes) bus when they need to go somewhere. That's what I did, and I'm still doing it (admittedly now in San Francisco with ok transit, before in central Illinois with very minimal transit).

OTOH, there shouldn't be a drinking age. Everyone I knew drank (and got drunk) as early as they wanted to. Making it illegal for teenagers just increased the appeal, and the profit/favor opportunity for older relatives.
posted by mlinksva at 11:53 AM on January 25, 2002


Saying "You must not drink, it's bad, m'kay?" makes the average U.S. teenager want to try it that much more.

This is because the average U.S. teenager isn't sufficiently afraid of their parents. When my dad told me that if I ever came home smelling of alcohol he'd whip my ass regardless of how old or how much bigger than him I was, I believed him.

It stuck. I have never been drunk in my life and I tend to have about one drink every year or two. Now that I'm an adult, I understand that inhibitions are a good thing; I act like a complete ass enough already, so why would I take a drug that makes me more likely to do it?
posted by kindall at 12:11 PM on January 25, 2002


American culture is best described as functional schizophrenia.

it's a constant tension in our culture - the frontiersman, Wild-West, laissez-faire attitude vs. the puritan, shining-city-on-the-hill, moralistic attitude.


Speaking again from the European point of view - which has its own, far less innocent hypocrisies(such as pretending that alcohol in the form of "wine with meals" can do no wrong) - it's still paradoxical that there should be, in the U.S. and Canada, a culture which equates "drink" with "drunk".

My parents lived in Canada(Nova Scotia) for nine years and were fined for offering a bottle of wine to their neighbours, just because the blinds were open and they were spotted by a "do-good" passerby.

The same law applies if you're seen drinking, from the road, in your very own home. So you have to keep the blinds closed if you want a glass of wine with your lobster.

So epersonae's outlook seems to explain it:

ahhhh, but remember that our (americans') Puritan ancestors have a significant influence on the culture as well. they may have been looking for freedom, but it was the freedom to not drink, dance, etc., etc. and to call out anyone who wasn't following their code

Also, you were not allowed to buy alcohol(they were over 70)and not go straight home. Alcohol had to be bought last and carried in the car's trunk.

On the other hand, your vigorous freedom in discussing this matter shows that you're way more open to change the law, in order to conform to your thinking, than us one-sided Europeans are...

Europe is where everything is done by habit.

Funnily enough, I think it's all down to what Muckster and others say: it's the Forbidden Fruit factor which activates the schizophrenia and the divide between U.S. law and U.S. culture, which is definitely not repressive and patronizing.

It's still very puzzling and disheartening, though, for those of us who look up to you to find that 20-year-olds are able to do far more morally -and physically - challenging things, but not have a quiet drink.

Go figure![that's my all-time favourite American expression...]
posted by MiguelCardoso at 12:39 PM on January 25, 2002


Yeah, but those damn Portuguese use too many paragraph breaks.
posted by Kafkaesque at 1:05 PM on January 25, 2002


In my experience, the best way to get a Portugeuse is to leave a lot of duck food in front of your door.

(I made it up all by myself!)
posted by tweebiscuit at 1:15 PM on January 25, 2002


My husband tells me of the old days in North Carolina, of a time of 3% beer at age 18 to being allowed to drink liquor at age 21, ignoring the fact that most had tried, um,"peach brandy" well before then. As our grandmas always said "We've always had teen pregnancy and teen alcoholism."

Where was I? Oh yes, alcohol and kids. I remember my Dad giving me a sip of his Bud when I was 6. Boy that was nasty. So I left Dad's bottles of Bud alone, and still would. I drink stout. and straight Irish Whiskey. Mmmm. I think I'll have some now. I'll forget trying to make any point. Happy Friday!
posted by meep at 2:26 PM on January 25, 2002


four year old me wonders to dad on one side of room during party, "can I have a sip of your beer?"

I wonder to mom at other end, "What's that?"

"Whiskey sour."

"Can I have some? " makes whiskey face.

Back to dad, back to mom, back to dad, back to mom, back to...vomits in middle of floor.

My parents and their friends laughed at that story for years and I learned early not to mix beer and liquor.
posted by Mick at 4:09 PM on January 25, 2002


i shed many tears the day louisiana finally fell victim to the 21 year old drinking law. i was the ripe age of 20 and, without a grandfather clause, found myself suddenly stripped of my drinking rights for about a year. i too, have no point to make. i think i like drugs better.
posted by ggggarret at 4:35 PM on January 25, 2002


In Australia, we have the opposite situation. The drinking age used to be 21, but was lowered to 18, on the basis that 18 year olds were drinking anyway. (Never mind the fact that it's actually 14 year olds drinking anyway...)
posted by eoz at 4:49 PM on January 25, 2002


Now what about the age for freebasing Toilet Duck? Something's gotta be done! Am I right? Who's with me?!

Guys? Guys?
posted by Kafkaesque at 4:57 PM on January 25, 2002


I think the state of Louisiana had the best idea. The legal drinking age is 21 (just like every other state), but there was a loophole in the law that allowed anyone 18 or older purchase alcohol. So you could consume it… just not in visible places. (Couldn't go to bars, clubs, etc.)

Basically, kids would buy beer and go home and get wasted. This gave them a few years to learn how to drink in a safe environment while not really allowing them to go out and drink and drive.

I like that idea and it was working in Louisiana.... until there was pressure to change that law.

Does anyone know if it was changed?
posted by dawiz at 7:59 PM on January 25, 2002


Odd...I was grandfathered in in Louisiana. Then moved to Arizona at 20 and suddenly couldn't drink legally again for another year.
posted by rushmc at 5:24 PM on January 28, 2002


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