Note: This is my first diary entry on DailyKos and is not directly related to the politics du jour (primaries in KY and OR), but I thought I would take this opportunity to post something that interests me and learn more about the system before I dive right into deep political theory and debate. As well as provide a nice diversion from the politics to discuss an issue that I feel is ignored far too much, the minimum drinking age.
Recently, the BBC had a very interesting documentary about food and how people respond to it called the Truth About Food. In one of the episodes, they examined how children behave when certain foods are forbidden from them. For the experiment, they determined two foods that the children were equally fond of at the beginning of the experiment, dried mangoes and raisins. After determining this through a quick survey, they experimentally established that both were liked equally by providing it to the children twice a day and measuring the percentage of fruit eaten during the snack times.
Given this information, they changed the rules a bit. They would tell the children that they could not have the raisins during the first snack time, but would freely allow them to have them during the second time. Now, the raisins were still on the table, and as far as I could tell, the children were not admonished if they did take them during the first time. However, they were strongly encouraged not to, and peer pressure ensured that most did not touch the raisins the first time.
Now, the question is, what was the children’s reaction? Over the course of the study, the children became more and more obsessed with the raisins, acting very agitated during the first snack time, and restricting their eating entirely to the raisins during the second time. In fact, near the end of the study, the dried mango slices were barely touched during the second snack time. After the study was finished, the children were again surveyed as to which is their favourite snack. Overwhelmingly, they said raisins. This was corroborated by later tests where both were available sans restriction, and the dried mangoes were not touched at all.
So, what can be drawn from this, if anything? Well, it is well known in the social sciences that one of the best way to make something popular and "cool" is to restrict it, but still have it available to those who try hard enough to acquire it. In this case, the children demonstrated that by having the raisins in restriction for at least part of the time, led to essentially binging on the raisins when they were available. Interestingly, this is the exact same behaviour that is seen amongst underage drinking, especially at the university level. So much so, that an industry has developed to try to deal with "high-risk" underage drinkers.
The basic mentality of most programs to deal with underage drinking is to attempt to restrict the possession of alcohol in a much stronger capacity; larger fines for stores that sell, and jailtime for adults who provide it. Unfortunately though, this may likely have the opposite effect entirely. By making the commodity rare, and yet still available they simply make it psychologically more desirable when it is available. Note, that not all children were obsessive over the raisins after the experiment, only a shocking majority. Similarly, not all university bound children are obsessive over alcohol, but enough are to make it a real issue on campuses throughout the US and Canada.
When, the children are at home, alcohol drinking and binge drinking is still an issue at "bush parties" or house parties. I remember this problem from my pre-university existence. However, upon being free of the household and able to access alcohol more or less without difficulty leads to much higher incidences of problems for young adult drinkers, especially in provinces where the legal drinking age is out of alignment with the age a person leaves home. I have argued vehemently with friends and family that the drinking age should be at very least at the age a person graduates from high school and thus would likely be leaving the homestead.
Why? Some would argue that this would just make alcohol more available and thus encourage binge drinking. However, I believe that by making the alcohol more freely available, our natural instincts to be drawn towards the forbidden (Especially through peer pressure) would be suppressed and while there will still be those drawn towards the horrors of alcohol abuse, far fewer will be involved in the binge style drinking which is so common on campuses throughout the states and Canada. In fact, I have heard from friends in Europe that the binge drinking seen in the states is nowhere near as prevalent in countries with a very low, or non-existent drinking age.
However, recently some researchers are starting to argue that reducing the drinking age or even removing it entirely would be more beneficial than harmful. This has led me to rethink my initial thoughts on the matter. They argue that by allowing children to drink at home under supervision, they can learn responsible alcohol use (assuming the parents are responsible) and thus be better prepared for when they are on their own.
A small issue with this plan is that it will still require more active therapeutic public health involvement in treatment of the few who do have addictive personalities (or grew up with irresponsible parents: "Hey Billy, have another one, hic"). As well, the education system would need to completely overhaul how it teaches children about alcohol. So, the investment in public health and education will increase. However, I believe the saving in enforcement costs, as well as the decrease in university-aged binge drinking would likely outweigh any preventative education or therapeutic costs.
However, in the long run, I think by acknowledging we are human and developing a system that doesn’t aggravate our natural tendencies (to binge and such) will be far more effective in the long run than artificially banning it and thus making it more of a forbidden fruit rather than just a crappy intoxicant.