“Let young people drink, but teach them to drink responsibly.” That sounds good, but rarely works in reality. In Germany, too, only 21-year-olds should be allowed to buy alcohol. I remember my first (and only) fake ID. In less than two hours, a college friend made me a fake New Jersey driver’s license. Because he had to do it so fast that night, the back of the ID was totally messed. But the whole year I used the ID card, I wasn’t turned down at any pub.
So how sensible is the American regulation to serve alcohol to 21-year-olds only when it is so easy to fake the age? That makes a lot of sense. After all, I was already 20 when I set off with this fake ID card, while German youths were officially allowed to drink beer and wine four years earlier. Until then, the danger of being caught had indeed prevented me from going out as often as I would have done if I had been allowed to.
In high school my classmates and I found the German regulation being better: Let young people drink, but teach them to drink responsibly. Thus, we thought, there would be no attraction of the forbidden.
That sounds good, but rarely works in reality: Only recently, a young person drank himself to death in Berlin. Of course there are also young people in the USA who drink, some are only 13 or 14, but I believe that the age limit of 21 makes it harder and even impossible for some to get alcohol. If a 14-year-old man in America tried to buy alcohol in a shop, he would be laughed at in most cases. The 19- or 20-year-olds will probably only be able to do this there.
According to a study, one in five people in Germany between the ages of twelve and 25 drink regularly. It also proves that young people drink more and earlier. Direct comparisons are complicated, but the National Household Survey on drug abuse comes to similar conclusions for the USA – almost one in five participates have been in so-called black out drinking.
None of the systems seems to be working really well. But I think the Germans should set the limit to an age at which most of them have lost their youthful impulsiveness – and then look at the results.
Statistics from both countries also show that the age limit is not the only solution. In both countries, the problems are culturally deeply rooted. Schools, parents, businesses and governments should therefore work together to discourage and educate young people about alcohol.
However, the greatest responsibility to prevent black out drinking lies with the parents. My father and my stepmother spoke openly to me about alcohol when I was growing up. They were not Puritans, but they were not indifferent either. They regularly asked me what I was doing at the weekend, who I was going out with and where I was going. I had a curfew. Of course, all this didn’t quite stop me from drinking (and getting a fake ID for the purpose), but it postponed the time to an age when I could handle alcohol better than if I had started at 12 or 16.
Young people will always find a way to get alcohol illegally, using fake IDs or somehow else – the temperament at this age is inventive. Therefore, one should not stop the attempts to limit the sale of alcohol, or make it freely available. Raising legal drinking age age is a strategy that Germany should pursue in order to get to grips with the problem. After all, the twelve to 14-year-olds – in both countries – are too much to lose their newly developing minds in an alcohol fume of detached inhibitions and blurred vision.