Sumra: America has a drinking problem

Eish Sumra, Columnist

If you ever want to be publicly judged, try being a 22-year-old ordering an alcoholic drink with lunch. A waitress serving me this past weekend looked confused and shocked as a college student of legal age dared to drink at 1 p.m. You’d have thought I’d asked her to do a keg stand in the middle of the restaurant. It was one of a variety of bizarre alcohol-fueled memories of my few years in the U.S., from seeing a friend chase a vodka shot with a chicken nugget to a parent playing beer pong at a house party.

Perhaps it is my European upbringing or my unwillingness to care about people judging my habits, but having spent the past three years in this country, America’s drinking habits and laws make no sense to me. You’re made to feel like alcohol is taboo, something to be hidden away or face serious repercussions. But the facts speak for themselves, and until America learns to embrace drinking culture and educate people on it, younger generations will continue to abuse alcohol and spread a toxic approach to drinking.

In a recent article, The Daily reported that last year Northwestern saw the fewest liquor violations in three years. While this is, of course, an admirable step forward, it isn’t indicative of a national trend that has seen “high risk drinking” increase by four percentage points over the last 15 years. The American stigma around drinking is so high that you can’t sit at the bar area of a restaurant if you’re underage, even if you don’t plan to drink. A wall has been put around the world of liquor, forcing many who aren’t educated about drinking to treat it and its illegality as a reason to abuse it.

The drinking age is 18 in most of Europe, and in many other countries you can drink at 16 when accompanied by an adult. It’s a place where parents drink with their grown children, and are less likely to judge them for deciding to do so. Of course, there are many circumstances of overindulgence — indeed Britain’s reputation for binge drinking is hardly stellar. However, with restaurants and bars being more open to drinking, younger generations view drinking as more of a social occasion, an opportunity to hang out with friends instead of something to revolve one’s night around.

One aspect of drinking that seems to astound me is the concept of “darties” — the idea that day drinking is almost worse and crazier than drinking in the evening. These events further the belief that drinking at any time of day is bad and clandestine, and therefore celebrated when college students have the chance.

Parents take a big responsibility in this respect. Many of my friends whose parents deride drinking and do not openly discuss it revel in the freedom of college — that freedom often causing them to go overboard. If parents are too strict and not appreciative of the well-known fact that college students will be exposed to alcohol, they risk putting their children in harm’s way. When teenagers are provided a forum to at least try drinking, they learn to experience it in comfortable environments and form habits that will lead them into adulthood.

By smirking and judging those who choose to drink in an enjoyable yet safe way, you make it seem like what someone is doing is wrong, encouraging them to continue to drink in sometimes unsafe ways. The U.S. needs to learn that its alcohol problems come down to culture and not laws. In no way do I think that the legal drinking age will change anytime soon. What needs to change is attitude.

Eish Sumra is a Medill senior. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.