It’s OK to drink on your 21st birthday

Finally being able to legally consume alcohol is what set my 21st birthday apart from any other birthday celebration. I was surrounded by my good friends, my favorite dance music was playing, everyone was dressed in their best going-out clothes, and yes, I drank more than I normally do.

All of these factors contributed to me having the best night of my life.

In my opinion, giving your birthday extra attention by having a few more drinks than usual (given that you don’t typically binge drink to begin with) doesn’t mean you have bad judgment. I also don’t think that it should be frowned upon. It can make the celebration more special and exciting.

But when you drink to the extremes, such as consuming 21 drinks in one night, you’re putting your life on the line.

There have been numerous documented cases of students getting alcohol poisoning, and many of these cases end in fatality. According to a US News Health article from 2010, there are more than 79,000 deaths annually from drinking too much in the United States alone. That number continues to rise.

All of these cases can be attributed to binge drinking, which the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 or above. This usually occurs when men consume five or more drinks and when women consume four or more drinks in about two hours.

For someone of my size, consuming 21 drinks all in one evening would translate into an instant coma. I don’t think I could even handle ten without vomiting. However, my 6-foot brother would have no problem with that amount of alcohol in that duration. The way alcohol affects people is primarily contingent on your body size.

That information may be common sense to most students, but I still see male and female college students of varying sizes competing with each other to see who is the “better drinker.” Even I was asked on my birthday to match the amount my guy friend was drinking so he could prove to me that he’s “better.”

Competing with a 5-foot female is nothing to boast about, but that’s besides the point. People seem to think that if they can drink more than others, that makes them “better.”

This spills into the mentality of students when turning 21. I find that the pressure they feel to drink is because of the competition. They want to prove themselves to their friends that they’re not cowards. The hardcore partier image is coveted by many, and students will go to great lengths to achieve this, even if it involves consuming enough alcohol to induce a coma.

That’s definitely not OK. Trying to earn a superficial title is not worth your life.

Another reason people drink excessively on their 21st birthdays is because of the law. They finally can legally drink, and many of them have been waiting for that moment for quite some time.

And to me, that’s OK.

It doesn’t make you a bad person or an alcoholic by any means if you want to drink more than usual on your birthday. I definitely did. I wouldn’t ever say I’m proud of it. In fact, I wish I drank less or paced myself better so the next morning could have been more productive.

Still, I don’t regret it. As I said earlier, I had the greatest time of my life, but drinking the amount I did while having fun is conditional. It was mainly possible because I was with my boyfriend. After being in a relationship for five years, I unquestionably trust that he knows how to take care of me in that kind of situation.

In addition, I threw a party where, despite being open to the public, the bulk of the people who were there were my friends. I trust that they wouldn’t let something unfortunate happen to me, especially while being intoxicated. Still, I never ventured off by myself. I always had my boyfriend or a close friend by my side.

Lastly, I didn’t drink to the point where my life was at stake. I know my body can’t handle a certain amount of drinks in one hour, and I didn’t test those limits.

Basically, my friends babysat me that night, which sounds childish. But if you want to drink to the point where your judgment is impaired (roughly, this most likely means having a BAC of .08 or above), you need to be surrounded by people you trust in order to be safe. If that’s not possible, I’d suggest decreasing your alcohol consumption significantly.

Don’t think the result will inevitably be negative if you want to go all out for your 21st birthday. Don’t be so quick to judge someone who went above and beyond for her/his 21st. I wouldn’t characterize myself as an avid party-goer or drinker, but I knew I wanted to have a memorable (to some extent) 21st birthday. And I certainly did, courtesy of my trustworthy company.

Geena Maharaj can be reached at

One Reply to “It’s OK to drink on your 21st birthday”

  1. As a former bartender & bouncer (some of that at O’Gara’s, so I may well have carded the parents of current students), I can tell you that no matter who you are, the probability of downing 21 shots and living is fairly minimal.. Obviously, have a designated sober driver. No matter how good it tastes & feels when ingesting, it tastes & feels terrible coming up. Worshiping the “porcelain goddess” is no way to spend the day after your 21st birthday. (Okay, I was young & foolish once, but I’m older now by nearly 40 years.)

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