What's the right age to drink?

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When it comes to talking about their rights, youngsters have always been at the forefront of debate. For them, what is at stake is their right and freedom to choose. Many feel that if they are allowed to vote, drive and marry at the age of 18/21 years, they should be allowed to drink as well.

“If legal authorities think that 18 is when we enter adulthood and it’s the correct age to start driving a car and choose the government, then I think the government needs to understand that 18-year-olds are wise enough to handle their alcohol too,” says Simran, 17, student of Delhi Public School, Gurgaon.

The legal age for alcohol consumption was in news recently when Delhi Tourism Minister Kapil Misra suggested that the permissible drinking age for beer and wine in Delhi should be reduced to 21 years from the existing 25. The Aam Aadmi Party government supported its minister, though making it clear that the legal age for hard liquor would remain 25, for which they faced a backlash from the Bharatiya Janta Party leaders.

Each state in India has its own legal age for drinking and laws governing sale of alcohol. However, the reality is quite different as youngsters start consuming alcohol by the age of 18. Honey Goyal who runs Sapna Theka, a liquor shop in Delhi also feels the age for drinking be reduced to 21 as “it’s habitual for us to get customers between the age of 18-21 and it is difficult to check everybody’s ID”. Toshali Sharma, 20, a student of Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi University agrees and says, “many below the age of 25 consume alcohol. So, the legal age for drinking should be reduced”. 

 However, there are some who feel that 18 years would be too low an age for consuming alcohol as youngsters are still impressionable.  “The legal age for drinking should ideally be 23 years because I think people anyway make up their mind to drink or not to drink by that age. They are the earning members of society mostly by this age and there is no harm in drinking at the age of 23,” Vini Nair, 23, tells Metrolife.

Consultant psychiatrist at Better Me - Mental Health Services, Dr Shwetank Bansal observes that states which have higher bracket of drinking age tend to witness more cases of underage drinking.

However, “a blanket ban on drinking in the case of adults, can tend to seem paternalistic,” he adds. Also, since maturity is not a function of age, “we would be better served by intense efforts at education and awareness, so that we can inculcate a healthy sense of responsibility towards oneself and others,” notes Dr Bansal.

Some also think that extreme restrictions have a paradoxical effect. “A lot of teenagers fall for alcohol out of curiosity and temptation and become an addict as a result of stereotypes and taboos our society and government has created around alcohol consumption,” says Bhupender Singh.

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