Youth Radio: Student Recalls Temptation to Drink

Commentator Nora Harrington recalls how she was introduced to drinking her freshman year in college, as part of a sports team initiation ritual. She says the current legal drinking age of 21 encourages binge drinking, and thinks the solution is better education.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Commentator Nora Harrington of Youth Radio recalls her introduction to drinking on campus.

NORA HARRINGTON:

I floated through high school being the square, the person at keg parties staying away from the cups of cheap beer. Whenever someone asked if I wanted a drink, my friends would speak for me. `No, she doesn't drink.' Even on prom night, I rode in my limo nursing a rum and coke, minus the rum. Drinking in high school felt really unsafe. All the keggers were in public places where it's easy to get caught, and I could never tell if the people I might have to bum a ride from were sober.

Then I went to college. On campus, kids who got drunk just stumbled home across the quad, no need to drive at all. But I still wasn't sure if I wanted to get drunk. Within the first few weeks of freshman year, I heard stories about drinks spiked with date-rape drugs and obscene sexual behavior under the influence, especially in fraternities.

I held out a month and a half. Then I joined a team, and getting drunk was part of the initiation, known as rookie night. They locked us in a basement room with a single flickering light bulb and 60 beers to divide amongst five girls. They barked, `If you don't drink all this in half an hour, you're going to get busted.' I started weighing everything out. I knew I wouldn't have to depend on someone else to drive me home. I knew my teammates wouldn't let me go home with some skeezy guy, and I knew they wouldn't leave me passed out on the bathroom floor. So I started to drink. I had six beers in 20 minutes, then ran to a trash can that handled my business.

I remember being dragged upstairs, watching the other rookies doing strange dances, then being put in a chair on a porch, shivering and gasping in the cold East Coast fall air and getting sick again. I didn't touch alcohol for six months. But then I became close friends with some 21-year-old girls, and they drank all the time, so I tried it again. This time, I knew my limits. I was buzzed, and that's all I wanted to be.

Despite my bad experience with alcohol, I think the drinking age should be lowered to 18. At 18, we can already buy tobacco products, enlist in the military and vote. Yet we can't drink. If you're 18, 19 or 20, the second you drink one beer, you're already being a bad kid. If you get caught, it won't matter how much liquor you've had, it's all illegal, so people my age figure you might as well just go crazy with it like I did.

Like driver's training school, I think there should be a classroom setting in college where kids can learn how to drink safely. I know I was lucky my first time drinking. I could have woken up the next morning in a strange guy's bed with no recollection of what happened the night before. Compared to that, my experience was pretty much as safe as it gets, and I even ended up with a story I could tell my parents.

INSKEEP: Commentator Nora Harrington is starting her sophomore year in college. Her commentary was produced by Youth Radio.

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