The Emerald Isle has always had an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. It’s a tale as old as time. This relationship has been exaggerated by the media, The Simpsons and by American films with horrific “Gaelic Accents.” Every year we hear the horror stories of teenage discos and house parties that conclude in Accident and Emergency rooms and of course. the Irish teenager version of Oktoberfest, also known as Junior Cert Results Night. It is clear that the legal drinking age of eighteen is a myth, a number on a sheet of paper that is often ignored. Our young people drink in secret, in fields in rural Ireland, in alleyways, at “sleepovers”. They drink to get drunk and to do so as quickly as possible.
According to “The European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs” over 25% of Irish teenagers start drinking at the age of 13 or even younger. A shocking 75% have had some form of alcohol before reaching 15 or 16 years of age. In an ideal world, young people would have their first drink when they reach the age of adulthood but this far from reality. Should we follow our Trump-led American counterparts and increase the drinking age to 21? Perhaps, this would do more harm than good.
On 17th July 1984, Ronald Regan announced that he would withhold up to 10% of highway funds from states that refused to increase their drinking age to 21. This was as a result of the huge number of deaths resulting from drink-driving. However, according to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 12 to 20 year olds drink 11% of all alcohol consumed in the States. In 2010, 189,000 people under the age of 21 visited emergency rooms with injuries and other conditions linked to alcohol. American teenagers drink in secret until they are finally able to legally buy alcohol at the age of 21. It is a dangerous phenomenon. It is a well- known fact that banning something makes it more popular. Just look at America during the 1920’s when Prohibition was the buzz word of the day. Drinking did not come to a standstill, legal drinking did. Bootlegging became the best way to achieve the American dream. Gangsters like Al Capone made their millions.
La France is often see as the country with all the answers. In France, children are introduced to watered down wine at a young age during family dinners. They learn how to drink responsibly and to know their limits. However, when France raised the minimum age for buying alcohol from 16 to 18 in 2009 it had a completely undesired effect. It led to a rise in binge-drinking. “We’re seeing more and more young people in the emergency room, seriously drunk, who stay for a day or two to sober up” said Dr. Damien Labarriére, a gastroenterologist in Orléans.
In an ideal world, Irish teenagers would start drinking at the age of 18 but this is sadly not the case. Our main priority should be supporting our young people and ensuring they know how to drink responsibly and in moderation, not presenting the world with an age that is completely unrealistic. Before we consider lowering the drinking age we should consider the factors that affect underage drinking; boredom, stress and a deeply flawed education system based on a points race. As a country we are notorious for sweeping things we would rather ignore under the carpet and hoping that they will eventually disappear. However, this is not a matter we can ignore much longer.