Underage drinking (and binge drinking) is no foreign concept to American high schools. Numerous people I know and go to school with have bad experiences with alcohol. Some kids have blacked out and others have had their stomachs pumped after alcohol poisoning. And I just finished my sophomore year in high school. Despite everything that goes on at my school, depite the almosts, I was still surprised and a little bit scared when I read about Miguel Perrault’s death. It happened this past Saturday night, Miguel’s 15th birthday, after he drank an entire fifth of vodka.
American teenagers don’t drink with meals or because they like it. They drink to get drunk. So most teen experiences with alcohol in this country are of bingeing. Every year there are somewhere around 5,000 alcohol related deaths of people under 21 in the United States. And even though after every weekend I hear contributions to the underage drinking statistics, the real dangers behind every party seem unreal or irrelevant and teens like me are still shocked to hear about Miguel Perrault. I guess a feeling of invinciblilty is something pretty common amongst teens. And I think its safe to assume the 5,000 underage drinkers who’ll die this year because of alcohol won’t think it’ll happen to them.
I’ve always had it in my head that European teenagers were better and smarter about drinking, that since it isn’t always against the rules or as taboo, it would be easier to be a more responsible drinker. I thought without needing fake IDs or unsupervised houses, without all the sneaking around, drinking wouldn’t be the same. I always assumed that since it can be done more casually by teens in Europe, that it was. Well, my notion of European teenagers wasn’t totally accurate but the idea that Euro teens are better about drinking seems to hold some truth. Apparently, European teens binge drink just as often as (and in some places more often than) American teens. The difference is that European teens also drink with their families and at meals, while often times every alcoholic encounter for an American teenager results in bingeing.
The result: despite the parallels in frequency of binges, European teens have more experience with alcohol. They are not so reckless and even when they have their first drink at the same early age as someone in a typical American family, they are less likely to have alcohol addictions in the future. Having alcohol as a norm, in the home and with family, has shown to create a healthier relationship with alcohol and to lower the risk of alcoholism even when additional alcohol use occurs. Maybe drinking should be something that young people learn how to do, instead of having to figure it out on their own. Maybe that will instill a more responsible attitude toward drinking to replace the false invincibility that seems to cloud reality for so many teenagers.