America can’t handle its drinks

Rina Cakrani, Columnist

Illustration by Claire Revere
Illustration by Claire Revere

One of the things that has surprised me the most about college life in the US is the way many college students don’t know how to deal with alcohol. There is this particular attitude towards alcohol that I haven’t seen anywhere else. When I first went to parties here, I noticed how people drink until the point they get drunk, because that’s how ‘it’s supposed to be;’ because that is the fun and adventurous part of alcohol. This behaviour is fueled by the idea that alcohol is ‘the evil,’ the prohibited drink, the one thing you should avoid if you are under twenty-one. If you get to drink it and get drunk, then it is ‘cool’ and you are officially part of ‘the cool kids’ club.’

In other parts of the world and specifically in Europe where I have lived for nineteen years, the attitude of young people towards alcohol is totally different. Sure, they do get drunk as well, because as a teenagers things often get out of control, but it doesn’t happen for the same reasons. Drinking is not considered a ‘cool thing’ to do. It is considered a leisure, a way of social interaction and enjoying your time with your friends. Getting drunk is not idolized or looked upon as the main goal to fulfill when you are going to a party. Instead, the main reason why young people go to parties is to dance and genuinely have a good time with one another.

Perhaps this could be due to the fact that there is a liberal attitude towards alcohol in Europe; is not portrayed as ‘evil’ or the one thing you should avoid but rather as something that can be consumed and enjoyed in moderation. Perhaps it could be due to the fact that the legal age of drinking is sixteen in most countries and kids have had their first couple of wine glasses under their parents’ supervision and therefore have gradually learned how to control the quantity they drink. While in US, when most students first go to college, they have never consumed alcohol or have done so very little. When they start their lives away from home, there is no one to control what they drink and how they consume it, therefore it can be hard for them to set boundaries for themselves and to know when to stop.

The US is where I heard about ‘pre-gaming’ for the first time. It seems like people are not quite confident about handling alcohol when they go to parties, so they’d rather get it over with before even getting there. Those that are under twenty-one often pregame excessively, since they can’t buy alcohol themselves. Unfortunately, when they arrive at parties, they end up drinking even more and end up heavily drunk and unconscious. I thought at first, I may have been exaggerating in my impressions of the way American college kids drink, but in fact I did some research and I found out more than I was prepared to.

According to statistics, the rate of binge drinking in US is the highest in the world and 90 percent of all the alcohol consumed by young people is done in a binge drinking session. Europeans do consume the biggest amount of alcohol because they consume it every day with main meals, however they don’t have high rates of binge drinking. In countries such as France and Italy the concept of ‘binge drinking’ doesn’t really exist and the English phrase for it has emerged only lately. Getting heavily drunk is actually looked down upon by these societies. Certainly, I don’t want to say that the way alcohol is conceived in Europe is the right way, but it is for sure better than the concept of alcohol here in US.

The hype about alcohol really surprises me because I never thought about it that way. I was never conscious about ‘drinking culture’ before I came here, because back at home it is such a normal thing that you start doing when you get into your teenage years. When people drink here in their dorms, they seem so excited as if they are doing something of extreme importance. Maybe if they didn’t idolize and glorify it that much, they would enjoy themselves more at parties, which usually last only one hour, since most people’s bodies aren’t used to the alcohol.