Monday, September 28, 2009

Why Drinking Age Laws Suck

Should we be making it easier for teens to drink?

When I was under the drinking age, I would have said, "Hell yes, make it easier for me to buy alcohol!" Especially after a night of driving around aimlessly and complaining about having nothing to do, I would launch into rants about how draconian and oppressive US alcohol laws were, and how in Europe you could walk into a pub when you were 16 and blah blah blah. Then I turned 21 and stopped thinking about teenagers not being able to drink until yesterday, when I came across this quote from a former heroin addict in an article about the rise of teenage heroin use in Long Island:

“Believe it or not, as a high school teenager, (heroin) was easier for us to get than alcohol,” he said. “It’s cheaper than anything out there.”

That sounds absurd on the face of it, but then I thought back to my not-far-removed days as a teetotaling teen trying to find an intoxicant. Was it any easier to find alcohol than any other drug? I mean, you could find alcohol, there were liquor stores and gas stations all over the place, but getting it into your hands was more difficult. If your community enforced the drinking age like mine did, you had to: 1. find someone's older sibling; 2. Acquire a fake ID; or 3. Find a shady-looking adult on the street and pay them to buy you booze.

Unless the older sibling is feeling charitable, all three of these options cost money and take a fair amount of time, which raises the cost of acquiring alcohol for teens. More importantly, going through these channels means that you're going to end up in contact with some pretty shady people--the kind of people you would go to if you wanted to buy weed, or coke, or heroin.

Marijuana and alcohol are often denounced for being "gateway drugs," meaning that people--especially teens--who use them end up going on to harder drugs, which is where things can really start sucking. But one of the reasons these drugs are "gateways" is the channels teens use to get them are similar to the channels they go through for the bad drugs. The guy who sells fake IDs might have a coke business on the side; my local pot salesman also sells prescription pills. Entering the teenaged black market so you can experiment with alcohol or pot (things nearly everyone tries) also gives you access to drugs that ruin your life.

The above linked article compares the prices of drugs: a bag of heroin costs $5 to $25 for an eight hour high. That's a pretty good deal, if you want to get really fucked up. The problem with heroin is that it's too good at what it does--addicts feel so good when they're high and so bad when they aren't that they don't see a reason to do anything else. If you're a teen who is already predisposed to drug use, and you find a drug that's cheap and will get you really fucked up, and you haven't been educated enough on the difference in degree between alcohol and heroin--alcohol isn't good but heroin is really really fucking bad--why wouldn't you pick up a bag of horse from your dealer buddy?

On the other hand, if you were already comfortable with alcohol, and it was socially acceptable to drink in front of adults, and you weren't going through shady people to buy alcohol and being forced to drink in cars and parking lots, would you buy that bag? Or would you say, "No thanks, beer's good enough for me?" Or would the question never come up, because you wouldn't know the dealer?

We can't stop teens from drinking and getting high, because we can't really stop anyone from drinking and getting high. But Jesus, with the amount of attention we focus on drugs, you would think we could stop teens from shooting up. Maybe if we made it more legal to drink, and didn't turn a large percentage of teenagers into criminals for having a drink, we could avoid some of the worse consequences of teen drinking.

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