Two weeks ago I became legal. The big 2-1. The so-called age of “adulthood.” By this point in their lives, American citizens can legally adopt children, apply for a commercial driver’s license and pay their own electricity and utility bills. Yet, on the 21st anniversary of their birth, Americans are given the freedom, even encouraged, to flaunt their new “adult” status by throwing aside their reservations and toasting to newfound freedom at the nearest bar. This day is supposed to be the grand coming-of-age celebration, but many Americans won’t even remember what they did after 5 p.m.
Don’t get me wrong; I am not a prim and proper teetotaler. In fact, I had made hopeful plans to go out with some friends on this grand day to celebrate my own rite of passage. But, as per usual with my plans, things did not turn out as I had expected, and I found myself stuck in a class that Wednesday night, Starbucks frappuccino in hand and eyes following the clock’s slow progression toward 9 p.m. Needless to say, I did not feel like venturing into the night by that point.
Yet, my disappointment only lasted for a short time. I began to reason with myself. What exactly did I want to go out and do? Drink myself into a state of oblivion while my underage friends looked on and documented my humiliation on Facebook? Not that they ever would do that – friends don’t let friends’ drunken deliriums find their way onto social media. But I digress. I couldn’t rationalize my desire to go out and solidify my new adulthood by acting the part of an irresponsible child and expecting my closest friends to baby-sit me.
Why do we Americans feel this great need to overindulge in every good thing? The evidence of our gluttony is inescapable. The Golden Corral buffet (beside which a billboard ironically touts a trendy diet pill). The detox treatments designed to flush away evidence of drug usage in our bodies. The rehab clinics that are never short of patients. Even the storewide deep-discount sales that compel shoppers to buy multiples of every item simply because the price can’t be beaten. I love a good sale just like any other girl, but must we always linger on extremes?
Some argue that our nation’s tradition of binge-drinking is a result of the high legal drinking age. American children are so deprived of alcohol that they just cannot resist the urge to overindulge the moment they are unleashed. Yet, America is not the only nation in the world to have a legal drinking age. Iceland, Japan and Thailand have a minimum drinking age of 20, while the legal age in Austria, Spain and Portugal is 16-17. China does not even have a legal drinking limit, while Afghanistan has outlawed alcohol entirely. Yet, it is Americans that seem to cling to this social norm of binge-drinking at the first legal opportunity. So what makes us so different from the rest of the world?
Our nation was founded on a strong set of principles. The first generation of Americans was committed to working hard for the essentials of life and taking nothing for granted. Things have changed since that time. U.S. citizens today seem to seek out new ways to overindulge without being reprimanded for their gluttony. We may drink before this golden age, but we will only do it in public once we’re legal. We might eat that entire quart of ice cream (guilty!), but we make sure the rest of the house is fast asleep before we creep to the kitchen. What happened to our self-control?
The issue here is not with the alcohol. Alcohol has been a staple of the human diet for as long as (or longer than) many essentials in our meals. Before our modern methods of water purification, the process of fermentation was a trusted method of sanitation for our drinks. Many European restaurants serve wine with meals as we would serve soda products. The difference? They don’t drink wine as we drink our Cokes.
We stopped being conscious of how much we are putting into our mouths. We ceased to be aware of the effects of bingeing on our bodies and minds. In short, we have taken ourselves for granted. We stopped showing our bodies some self-respect.
I am the first person to admit to these allegations. I finish this article with a slightly guilty conscience as I think back on the snack attack that fueled this self-righteous rage. What can I say? Caffeine jitters give me the munchies, which fuels the need for more sugar. Maybe I instinctively knew my body’s tendency to act on extremes, and subconsciously I decided to veer away from the night life calling my name on that fateful birthday.
I can only speak for myself. I truly believe that we must make decisions like these on our own terms, for our own selves. I do not hold to the one size-fits-all rule that drinking is bad, and we should call for the second Prohibition (because the first one went over so well). What I believe is simply that we should not take advantage of a social norm and use that as an excuse to disrespect our bodies. We were made for so much more than that.