We see drunken people almost everyday; whether it is on the news, in our local pub, walking down the street, or possibly even that one colleague at work who’s having a hard time. We’ve all heard the stories on the news about Britain’s problems with alcohol, whether its minors being inebriated, students binge drinking, or those of us who are simply alcoholics. And what are our great leaders doing to help prevent this? What is always their answer when this topic is raised in parliament? ‘Let us raise the minimum legal age for buying and consuming alcohol to 21.’ However I propose something radically different. Let us lower it.
Aside from the obvious reasons – such as being able to get married at 16 but being unable to have a celebratory drink at your own wedding - there are many valid reasons to lower the age limit.
Most of us know the story of Adam and Eve being thrown out of The Garden of Eden because Eve ate one of the Apples from the tree of wisdom after God told them specifically not to eat from that tree but they could eat anything else they wished to eat. This is probably the best known version of the “Forbidden Fruits” theory – also where the name originated from. There has been many psychological studies to prove and determine how, when and why the “Forbidden Fruits” theory works the way it does. If you say to your child “here is a chocolate bar, but you can’t eat it” all the child will think about is that chocolate bar and eating it.
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It is exactly the same with youths and alcohol, making them want to drink underage. – and this is where the problem begins for every drinker. Simply because the youths know they can not and should not drink they will do everything possible get their hands on alcohol as often as they can. However if we lower the minimum age of consumption, therefore making alcohol more accessible to youths, the number of youths with alcohol problems will decrease significantly. In countries such as Italy and France where drinking a moderate amount of alcohol with the evening meal is the norm, they have significantly less alcohol related health issues than we do. Children are allowed a sip of wine or a slurp of beer because it’s a social activity. Children, and therefore teenagers, see alcohol and its function differently. They have no concept of going out “to get drunk”.
There is also the problem that, just like sex, alcohol is everywhere. There is at least one pub on every corner, every shop has an alcohol section - often near the checkout, alcohol in television shows and movies, advertisements for alcohol itself, empty tin cans and bottles lying in the streets - often smashed, inebriated people walking home, it becomes drilled into our brains to drink. To someone who is attempting not to drink, it is very hard and they will almost certainly give in due to constant reminders ‘taunting’ them.
I believe we should join our brothers and sisters in the European Union. Austria, Belgium, Bosnia, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, the Netherlands and Switzerland all have minimum ages of 16 for buying and consumption. Meanwhile Cyprus has a minimum age of 17 and in Albania, Greece, Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania and Sweden there is no minimum age. While countries in the EU do tend to drink more, the number of alcohol related problems is significantly less than in other countries. In America 57% of the adult population admit to drinking too much.
When it comes to minors drinking in America only 9% of the drinkers aged 12 -14 did not binge drink – and it only gets worse! 6% of 15-17 year olds do not binge drink and a shocking 4% of 18-20 years olds (bearing in mind that the minimum age for buying and consuming alcohol in America is 21.)
However in Spain only 5% of the population has an alcohol related problem. Why? They too start drinking in their early teens – just like us Britons – although the difference is they are encouraged to not only drink with friends but with family too.
Finally, in Italy the quickest way to lose your friend’s and neighbors’ respect is to get drunk in public. Drinking on the streets is considered disrespectful.
I feel we need a shift in the way we think about alcohol and the restrictions on it and this needs to be government led, by lowering the age limit for buying alcohol. If children grew up knowing what wine, beer etc tasted like, the mysticism behind it has been removed, and therefore the impulse to go out and get drunk. By lowering, not raising, the age limit there will be an almost instant change in the number of people abusing alcohol, especially in the younger generations.
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