photo by Mico Mazza

SEATED WITHIN A short walk to the Quebec border, the University of Ottawa has a unique dilemma when it comes to underage drinking on campus. Alcohol is easily accessible to freshmen not only at parties or private events, but also for sale just across the border. Though university is renowned as a time to experiment with slight alcoholism, the majority of the students walking onto our campus for the first time are 17 or still reeling from the fun of their 18th birthday party. With so many underage students on campus, how much of a concern should all these drunken freshmen be?


Point: Everything will work out fine

It’s become a rite of passage for students to drink underage in Canada. Despite the strict regulations and enforcement around the sale of alcohol to minors, teenagers across the country have found ways to get their hands on beer, spirits, and wine. This is much to the chagrin of concerned parents and law enforcement who have tried to convince students not to drink underage. Yet time has shown that the negative aspects of early drinking argued by those groups just haven’t come to fruition.

Many of these groups seem to be stuck on the idea that drinking shouldn’t take place at all, which seems like an unrealistic goal. This pasttime has worked its way into the fabric of what it means to be a Canadian youth and, in my estimation, students thinking about drinking before they reach the legal age need to be informed of the risks involved. Being open about the risks associated with alcohol is the only way that underage drinking can take place in a safe manner.

The fun of drinking is an important social experience. When you think back on some of the best times you had during your teenage days, at least one of those memories will be a party where alcohol was involved. I’m sure you could also think back to some bad times as well, but I’m willing to bet those bad experiences were the ones that shaped how you viewed and handled alcohol from then on. Thankfully, you learned from those experiences.

For the vast majority of people,the biggest issue faced when they had their first drink was whether or not their parents would find out. Learning how to drink responsibly at a young age allows youth to grow as people and figure out their own views on how to deal with alcohol. Almost everyone experiments with alcohol at some point before they reach the legal age, and there’s no point in trying to stop this tradition. Most of us have turned out fine, haven’t we?

—Mackenzie Gray

Counterpoint: It’s illegal for a reason

Some people argue experimenting with different substances is a rite of passage; that it is simply part of the overall experience of growing up. Kids will be kids. Well, that’s just the thing—studies have shown that although underage student drinkers are more likely to consume alcohol less often than their of age counterparts (mostly due to the fact that it’s not as readily available to them), they tend to, upon consumption, drink in larger quantities. In other words, underage students tend to binge drink more than legal-age drinkers.

What exactly is binge drinking, you may ask? In most studies, it is defined as drinking a high number of alcoholic beverages in short period of time (that’s five or six drinks in one night for a guy and four or five for a girl). More simply put, it is drinking to get drunk. What these studies seem to be saying is underage drinkers don’t really know how to drink—responsibly, that is.

What I find highly disconcerting is that our university culture seems to be what’s fueling the fire. Studies have shown that students who attend college or university are more likely to consume alcohol than their peers who do not attend a post-secondary institution. In fact, binge drinking is associated with what many would consider the more enticing aspects of student life: Parties, dorm living, athletics, and social circles.

Considering university should be one of the most enriching experiences of one’s life, why do so many students waste it engaging in extremely risky and negative behaviours such as unsafe sex, drunk driving, and violent or antisocial behaviour, all of which are linked to patterns of excessive drinking?

Binge drinking is associated with a plethora of health, social, and psychological problems, not to mention it is also responsible for academic difficulties—and let’s face it, although your social life is an important part of your overall university experience, so is your schooling.

Truthfully, I’m not against underage drinking. It is my belief that parents should teach their teens how to drink responsibly while they are still at home. The problem with drinking in university is that it is, for the most part, done in an unsupervised setting, and some students abuse this. Just because your parents aren’t around to lecture you doesn’t mean your actions don’t have consequences.

—Michelle Ferguson


Who do you think won this point-counterpoint? Cast your vote in the comments section below.