Teenage drinking habits in the US and Europe

Presentation / Essay (Pre-University), 2001

10 Pages, Grade: A

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Teenage drinking habits in the US and Europe

Being an exchange student in the USA brings many changes with it. It may seem that western Europe and North America don't differ too much, both home of capitalistic democracies, but taking a closer look on the countries you see there is not just a variety in languages.

The societies are formed by the people living under the given laws of the nations, one of the most striking differences, especially in my age group, is probably the handling of alcohol use, other drugs and driving a vehicle.

In the US it is illegal to sell alcohol to minors (under 21 years of age) nationwide, but the states have certain freedoms in articulating more specific alcohol related laws. 35 states do allow minors to possess alcohol under certain circumstances, for example Paragraph 123.46 (Alcoholic Beverage Control) of the Iowa law states: "[minors shall not purchase nor attempt to purchase, or have possession of liquor, wine or beer] except in the case liquor, wine, or beer given or dispensed to a person under legal age within a private home and with the knowledge, presence, and consent of the parent or guardian". This kind of law is called "social host" law and can be found in nine states. (John Elson)

Under the German law parents can authorize their kids alcohol at any age. >From the age of 16 teenagers are entitled to buy alcohol up to 15%Vol. which includes beer, wine, sparkling wine and hard limonades. The purchase of hard liquor is possible from 18 on, the possession though is allowed under gaining the adulthood.

Smoking cigarettes is legal with 16 years also, compared to 18 years in the US. Acquiring a drivers license in contrast is not possible under 18 years in most European countries while it is standard at the age of 16 in the US.

Evaluating this laws it becomes clear that the US provides way stricter drug related laws than Western Europe does- at this point the question comes up: Why do the US have the most severe drug related problems? (Gene Ford)

Western Europe’s early age drinking models which result in a socializing with alcohol are safer than the strict USA laws trying to abolish drinking among minors.

The key to achieve drinking habits without negative consequences is not to prohibit alcohol but to socialize with it in an appropriate environment supported by the society.

Of course there are people out there, protective parents, religiously convinced, total health promoters and so on who ask: Why drinking at all? Alcohol is considered a drug, there is a potential chance of addiction and it is used as a starter drug before the switch to, or the additional, consume of "harder drugs".

We all know that every drink kills brain cells (and way more than if we just sneeze) and research shows that the chance of suffering alcoholism, of course resulting in a lot of problems, even without knowing it, is pretty high among "high risk drinking choice makers" (Prevention Research Institute). Even more relevant for teenagers is the correlation between drinking and poor decision making, becoming impaired without realizing it can end up in vandalism, racism, sexual assault...Guys often seem to become "": they start fights with Arnold Schwarzenegger-like built people, make bad jokes trying to be funny insulting their friends, girls happen to forget about the possibility to get pregnant-short: absolute unawareness of consequences ( John Elson and D.L. Verga).

So after considering those severely negative attributes of alcohol, we condemn it, make it evil and repeal the 21st Amendment, at least for every young man/women under the age of 21. Drinking is dangerous, for your health's sake and the health of others, suggesting you are out of your mind and use the highway as your personal realistically animated race course. What about your parents? They are happy, think it is right without presenting any arguments: they don't need to, after all it is the law! Not following those laws means trouble, you know that - resulting in house arrest, early curfew, no TV and then the letter to the school- they get even more angry: the basketball team goes to state and their son messed it up: what are they going to tell the neighbors? With the need to get over that they turn around to get a drink-What? Didn't we say that alcohol is bad for you - or just under 21? According to RALLY USA teens are targeted as problem group number one for drinking - but the largest amount of alcohol related problems occur among middle-aged men.

So we need to fight against teenagers having access to alcohol, then they do not run to the store as soon as they get 21 and of course at that age they would be immune against any kind of alcohol abuse. Instead of them it is the under agers who abuse alcohol and take away the privilege for under 21 year olds to order wine with Italian pasta in place of the all American Coca-Cola. Sensation seeking and impulsive teenagers not capable of making smart decisions with 20 will threaten the public with 21 in the same way, won't they? Age means maturity and that comes with responsibility, source: common sense.

Everything would work out fine, if it was not so extremely unrealistic. Prohibition does not work, an example is the Mormon community where alcohol use would lead to immediate drunkenness when provided (Mona Charen) and whole America under the 18th Amendment. Al Capone found a way to make it possible, the kids today are just as likely to sneak around the laws. Teenagers tend to be rebellious, gregarious (group affiliation), sensation seeking and eager to try new things (Prevention Research Institute)- all those attributes lead away >from obeying rules. Teenagers, like all other human beings, want to have fun - 200 years ago Thomas Jefferson provided for a "pursue of happiness" in the Declaration of Independence of 1776. In this age of family tragedies (divorce rate in the US comes close to 50%), stress in school and work and increasing necessity of psychological treatments it is hard to be relaxed and have fun.

A ten year study showed that with a little ale and smoke teenagers seem to "wind up better adjusted" then the once living with total abstinence. (...) In every country of the world there is some sort of substance legalized, commonly alcohol, mostly because of the tradition. It has been there and it did not hurt anybody, as long as you are responsible about it.

Responsibility is a key issue in setting the standard age restrictions. In the USA the most powerful right you can have as a citizen, the right to vote, is guaranteed to everyone over the age of 18. Other than the suffrage citizens over 18 are trusted with being a child's legal guardian, can work full time job, with carrying a gun and the obligation to fight for their country, a country where they can not go and buy a beer. (RALLY education). Everyone is considered an adult from that age on: but isn't adulthood about being allowed to do everything, having total personal freedom? There you are, representing your country in Bosnia, growing up faster than you want to grow up while experiencing the hardships of war, and being denied to have a drink at night, as the only soldier in the bar? (Gene Ford) 18 to 21 year olds are made to second class adults (RALLY education), their civil rights being violated. Counting yourself to the adults you want to act like one and be respected like one, but a normal everyday thing like having a drink is not permitted. In RALLYs Arguments for 18 it says: "if you treat young adults like children, they will act like children". Which means that you are going to go out there and do it anyway...now we need to wonder: How?

"Since I am not allowed to be responsible for myself", may a teenager think, "why should I be for others". It sounds sad...but it turns out to be true all too often. Responsible behavior is hard to encourage when that very behavior is unconditionally illegal (Max A. Kalehoff). Who will listen when a teacher walks in and tells the class about how to handle alcohol for half an hour and then ends with the words..."so keep it in mind and wait, because you can't do it anyway"? In fact, schools and colleges sometimes don't get funds from the government to give appropriate education about alcohol because it could promote underage drinking. (RALLY education)

High Schools in the US have the negative feature of giving the impression that morning highs and hangovers are normal, since people from all kinds of backgrounds and all kinds of expectations of life clash in one classroom. School sports and activities work against it and the Student Council makes you sign a "no drug" paper - but isn't it illegal anyway? The same thing contributes to drunk driving. Whether you get an MIP or an OWI-does it really matter? You are in trouble with either offend, you may pay more for the one but that is comparable to doing 30 over speed limit instead of 20...Another example is the use of marijuana, which is almost safer than drinking since it is harder to proof and the tests are more expensive which gives you a chance of getting out of it while the breathalyzer is ready to go anytime.

The US has a disadvantage in the absence of a public transport system (with the exception of a few bigger cities) which makes it necessary to drive everywhere. (Tom Gerety). But this alone is no reason to actually go drink and drive which is obviously happening all the time. Especially in rural areas this is a extremely critical point since the empty gravel and dirt roads preferably taken by teenagers to hide for cops invite for unsafe driving tremendously. Driving while intoxicated is the leading cause of teenage death. In 1989, according to the National Traffic Safety Administration, 3 539 death resulted >from traffic accidents in which alcohol played a part, tendency: increasing! (John Elson)

A very connected problem is the missing of any places to meet - alcohol is the main reason. Teenagers don't bring that much money in bars or clubs - simply because they don't have it. But when they can't even purchase alcohol - are they going to get a carbonation flash? The trouble bar and club owners could get into because of teenagers is not worth the plus they can make out of them, so the sign "no entrance under 21" stays in the window. But you can even find yourself closed out trying to have "harmless" fun: you can't get (into) the movie, because it is rated "R", the concert of your favorite artist is supposed to be sexual, the video game you wanted to buy has a sticker with "violence" on the front and the option "eating at Perkins" evaporates after midnight.

We will end up drinking anyway - better described in most cases as binge drinking. In 1998 Mayer found out that that still takes place in peoples homes more likely than in other places (A.M.Hussong)-no drinking and driving? Big Sigh! Well, the people need to get home somehow and mom&dad are not exactly the best ones to ask...so the swallowing needs to be a little bit faster in order to be halfway sober when siting your struggling digesting body into the car.

Parents mostly shouldn't even be home since they would violate the law just being there and of course most parents don't know about planned parties when they are out of town over the weekend. Those abandoned houses lead to unsupervised parties where the drinking gets out of control easily (John Elson), actually it is meant to be exaggerated. At that moment the socialization steps back at the second place, getting drunk and high becomes priority. (W.Boroson) Tom Gerety observed: "They drink like alcoholics-in their rooms, in the bushes, behind the gym-they drink in secret because we punish them for drink openly!"

After A.M.Hussong outdoor settings are a unique risk environment for substance use, in the past bush parties were associated with elevated rates of alcohol related problems.

Statistics tell us more about American student-body's drinking habits.

79.5%of College students do drink on a regular basis, of whose freshmen 70% binge drink in the first semester and 45% of the college binge drinks weekly. (Max A. Kalehoff) The University of Michigan gave us a figure where 1/3 of High School Seniors drink to excess once every two weeks. (John Elson)

We can easily conclude that the Adam and Eve theory worked again: the forbidden fruit is exciting, you practically get a double kick: from the alcohol itself and from the fact, that you shouldn't be drinking at all.

Now let's take a look on other nations, we already learned that the law in western European countries allow teenagers to drink as early as at the age of 16 or under. One may ask himself: "If it ends in chaos here although it is prohibited: what does the teenage world look like over there then?" The big word (and it doesn't just stand there as a word) is socialization. Alcohol is a part of Europe's culture, it is introduced in everyone's home as something normal. (Warren Bororson) The first experiences with alcohol are usually under the eyes of the parents. Alcohol is no taboo so parents can educate their kids in the consequences and dangers and point them into the right direction. Teenagers learn to start lightly and being sensible about it. They do not drink excessive the first time, being reluctant to hide it from their parents or the officials. Warren Boroson cites a father who said: " I want my son to have fun and not to be a teetotaler". In his opinion parents should accustomize their children with alcohol at home or even in restaurants so that they can just stand over the situation and take it easy at the time when other teens flip to have a keg available.

For teenagers in Western Europe alcohol is accessible at nearly any time, they are used to have it around so it is really no big deal. Of course there will be the first times in a teenagers life everywhere when they can't see their end, don't know when or don't want to stop. Making mistakes is a part of growing up, an essential part. Supported by their friends, their parents and the whole society teenagers in Europe are pretty safe when they do something wrong. They will experience that it is not something to be proud of, not being able to get up the next day, friends telling them that they have been acting stupid, parents hurt through disappointment...but till they are sober again they are mostly taken car of: clubs or bars call taxis, friends carry people through the masses outside, parents get up in the middle of the night to pick kids up when they don't have a sober ride.

Asking teenagers in America what they did on the weekend is often answered like: I got drunk or/and high...This seems to be the main entertainment instead of just being a part of it. The fact of alcohol is not special, with this answer, for example in Germany, you could easily be branded a loser. "The sole purpose seems to be getting drunk" is how Stefan Beck puts it in a letter to Time Magazine. The ones doing it legal don't think that exaggeration is necessary, the others often do. (Gene Ford) Maturity is not something you get when you turn a certain age, it is what earn through showing a certain behavior, most likely including being able to be responsible. You don't really have the need to wait for a certain age in Europe, when you have to try something. Teenagers could purchase alcohol all the time, but they don't, in contrast to the US, where minors get thrilled by the idea. John D. Vivian observed that their is no problem in enforcing drinking laws, simply because their is no problem made out of it. The traffic polices' concentration is on fighting against intoxicated driving. The restriction is about as the same as in America, after approximately two drinks you have to leave your car behind. Police controls at the entrance of towns and key intersections are not rare, every caught offender could get their license revoked.

It often hits its goal: taxi companies have mini buses parties of more than 12 people rent to get safe to their establishment and back, otherwise someone needs to be found who doesn't drink that night and is willing to drive. Also, in every bigger city there is the possibility of public transport to go places. Right, those places are hard to find in the US, mostly because teenagers and young adults aren't allowed to drink. But they need to go somewhere, otherwise the depression and lack of usefulness in that age group get worse. That is what can cause real drug related problems-at that stage the government wish they would have let them drink earlier. Teenagers could have a very positive impact on the society, they are the generation of tomorrow, if they just would feel heard and accepted and not restricted in all possible ways. (Gene Ford) Sure, they are allowed to drive at an early age, which is exactly the other way round in Europe, where teenagers get used to the alcohol before they can operate a vehicle. Us teenagers need their cars, and they show adultery behavior with it. They are also involved in school activities, clubs, organizations...why shouldn't they be able to be responsible about drinking and driving at an earlier age, let's say 18?There is no reason and the US government makes it look like they have no trust in their youth whatsoever. Teenagers and young adults all over the world are capable of handling those things - only in the US, the land of endless opportunity, total prohibition for minors rules. Americas kids need to get accustomed with alcohol. First on special occasions, at home or in restaurants, with the permission of parents, so that it doesn't get associated with the everyday TV program. (7guidelines) "Stress responsible drinking, not drinking itself (especially binge drinking), as a mark of maturity!" calls David Hanson of the State University of New York. (Mona Charen).

It is the society's task to support their next generation and make it possible to get socialized with alcohol in a healthy way. It can be controlled by reasonable civil codes backed up by strong cultural sanctions, that means "adolescent alcohol consumption [...] [can be] regulated by the informal controls of family, community, peers, and self-restraint. (James F. Rooney, Ph.D. and Sandford M. Schwartz, M.A. cited by Gene Ford)

Minors will not learn how to make smart decisions by forcing them to run away and hide to do what they want to do and no one can stop them to do. The only possibility to make it safer, and that is the key point, is to control it in a natural way. Intoxication should never be accepted as an excuse for otherwise unacceptable behavior but with the opportunity to learn responsibility early on teenagers and young adults will show that the highway safety everyone is concerned about will still be the same. (David Hanson, Ph.D.)

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Teenage drinking habits in the US and Europe
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Term paper during exchange year in Iowa/US, including opinion
Teenage, Europe
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Kabelitz Susanne (Author), 2001, Teenage drinking habits in the US and Europe, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/104591


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