Wednesday, January 19, 2011

More Evidence that 21 Is an Arbitrary Number

Only in the nanny-state we call the United States of America would anyone assume that 1) there is absolutely no safe level of alcohol for an 18-20 year old, and 2) that as soon one turns 21, they are magically able to safely consume as much booze as they please, as long as they don't drive (which they never will, because they are far too mature of course).  Absurd?  You bet.  But our nation's alcohol policy unfortunately presumes exactly these things.  And we are guaranteed to remain unable to solve the American drinking problem until we confront both of these baseless and paralyzing assertions.

The first assertion falls apart when one considers that there is a safe level for just about everything, even (gasp!) radiation.  And even water can be toxic (even deadly) at a high enough dose.  It's the dose that makes the poison.  While it is true that children may not be able to handle even small amounts of a substance that adults can, remember that for essentially all medications, 18 year olds (who are not "children," by the way) are considered developed enough to handle an "adult dose."  In fact, people 18-20 years old are even considered old enough to legally put a known neurotoxin (nicotine) into their bodies!  And countries that allow 18 year olds to drink legally (such as Canada and all of Europe but Iceland) have somehow not become nations of brain-damaged alcoholic felons.  While we at Twenty-One Debunked do not encourage alcohol consumption at any age, or the breaking of any existing law, we clearly take exception to the "no safe level" claim as it concerns 18-20 year olds.

The second assertion simply defies logic and common sense, as well as established scientific facts.  Excessive alcohol consumption is dangerous at any age, even among middle-agers.  Amid all the sensational scare tactics about alcohol-related brain damage in people under 21, a recent study found that "binge drinking" in middle-aged adults may increase the risk of later dementia.  While we at Twenty-One Debunked dispute the overly broad definition of "binge drinking" that the study used (hence the scare quotes), there had to have been some real binge drinkers among them, especially since the study was done in Finland (a Nordic country with a notorious drinking problem).  Interestingly, teetotallers were also at increased risk of later dementia, echoing well-known findings about the relationship between alcohol and cardiovascular disease.  In a nutshell, moderation appears to be the key.