Binge-drinking: Are we asking the right questions?
I'm wondering what life would be like if they raised the drinking age to 20. Things probably wouldn't be too different - young people are resourceful and sneaky. Would it actually affect our 'drinking culture'?
I had my first beer when I was 12. It was a regular occurrence for me to have a few beers when I was with my family at certain events and places, supervised of course. But when I was 14, I started stealing beers out of the fridge - pulling the cans more to the front to give an illusion that there were still lots there. Dad couldn't recall drinking that many but went with the flow anyway.
I was pulled up on it eventually, and my parents expressed their disappointment. They said something like "we would rather know you were drinking than you being sneaky about it".
At the time, that was the green light I had been waiting for, to get on it with mates at our under-age parties filled with binging rage, copious amounts of booze, loud music and other more adventurous things.
Sure, we puked and we ended up with random cuts and bruises, we did things we regretted, but hey, it was an experience beyond our age and I came to understand what not to do.
It's something I will never forget, regardless of how bad the hangover was.
Looking back now, my parents were respectful of my age and the influences around me. They knew that I could secretly go off the rails and end up in shit. They could have grounded me, they could have made my life hell, but they didn't. They accepted the times, encouraged openness about what I was doing and provided support for me. Why try and suppress events when it was something they did when they were my age?
Do I have a problem with alcohol now? Certainly not. I know my limits. Instead, I have a problem with caffeine. I'm hooked on the bloody stuff and every time I try to quit, I get ill and go into withdrawal.
As crazy as that sounds, it's actually pretty serious. I ended up in hospital a few months ago in Auckland feeling like I was about to cack it. My heartbeat was out of control and blood pressure off the charts. The doctor put it down to one too many Red Bulls or coffees.
On the flipside to this, there are really sad and tragic things that happen when younger people drink alcohol. Is it avoidable? Possibly. I don't have the answers, but I know in my heart that my parents did the best for me; they prepared me for adult years.
It's hard to balance youthful freedom and experimentation with great parenting and societal expectations.
What if everybody were open to working with each other about this, rather than suppressing our 'drinking culture'? What if it were embraced in a way that encouraged consumption at a younger age, in a controlled environment? To allow teens to see and feel what bad experiences are like, rather than putting it off until 18 (when people go absolutely insane after a few beers, because their bodies hadn't experienced it before).
Maybe it's time to change the narrative. Maybe encourage controlled drinking experiences and look at what caffeine is doing to our bodies as well?
I would love to read your personal experiences on these things. I would also love to get an official response from somebody at the Ministry of Health or drug foundation on such ideas. Please try and mix your responses with fact and realistic situations, instead of the same old rhetoric.