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This just in: Teens drink more than just punch

I have a confession to make. When my dad tipped his cognac-filled glass to me in Vegas to toast my 21st birthday and I smiled and took a sip of my vodka and diet Coke, it was not my first drink. No, that was back at the sweet young age of 15, when I decided that the best way to fully experience German culture was to drink 14 apple juice and amarettos in a row, then gracefully have a seizure in front of the guy with whom I was flirting. This was what one might call a "learning experience." I learned, for instance, that German hospitals have surprisingly delicious food, which, (along with the morphine I got for my dislocated shoulder) made the experience quite delightful. I also learned that the rest of Germany isn't quite as delightful with a huge padded sling around my shoulder, which pressed my arm tightly to my body during a record-breaking heat spell. I may not have picked up the suave persona or the effortless sexiness that Europeans all seem to innately possess, but by the end of the summer I had that lovely, "au natural" smell down pat.

Now, Liz, you might say, this is a perfect example of why the drinking age in America is 21. By 21, you are accountable and adult enough to make responsible decisions involving alcohol, according to those friendly folks leading the country in D.C.

Those friendly folks are wrong.

Those friendly folks need only to go to a frat party and watch a boy, whose shirt has somehow disappeared over the course of the evening, consume his 16th beer of the night, then throw up all over the floor, which luckily probably won't matter, because the floor already is a particular shade of vomit and spilled beer.

"Hah!" he'll laugh. "I just threw up!"

And then, of course, he'll need to go get another beer.

And also, dear friendly folks in DC, because I'm feeling friendly and still mildly inebriated from three days in Vegas (apparently, they don't make nonalcoholic beverages there, I was informed by the amiable man letting me play with his poker chips), I'll let you in on a little secret.

Teenagers drink. I'll give you some time to scrape your chin off the floor and think about this for a second -- after all, why was Smirnoff Ice invented if not for high school kids to pretend that they like the taste of alcohol, so long as alcohol tastes like really, really sweet soda? I have a friend -- we'll call him Dave -- who has funded his entire college career making fake IDs and still had enough left over to take multiple trips to Hawaii, where he (surprise, surprise) drank like a fish and flopped around in the Pacific Ocean.

So, when I took that first legal taste in Las Vegas, I had two thoughts, the first being that if a diet Coke costs roughly 50 cents for a can and a splash of vodka is worth maybe a dollar, tops, how do they combine to create a $15 cocktail? And the second was, whoopee. I'm drinking. I'm now in equal standing with 11-year-old Italians, who are allowed to enjoy a little vino with their dinner from the time they can say "mama mia." And I don't know if you've ever walked through the streets of Rome, but there aren't many drunken frat boys (except, of course, American tourists, so proudly representing the culture from which we come). Lots of men enjoying your rear view a little too much, lots of random cats and cobblestone, but no binge drinking.

Since I'm 21 now, and obviously a far more mature and responsible adult than I was last week, according to my government, I'm going to throw an idea out there. Maybe, just maybe, why we drink is because we can't. Maybe if we grew up with a little wine here, a glass of champagne there, we wouldn't feel the need to throw the entire contents of a case of Bud down our throats whenever we come into contact with one. Maybe we should teach our children to read word by word instead of throwing "War and Peace" in their faces and saying, "Good luck."

So, there it is, my confession -- my name is Liz Moody, and while I've had some drinks, I'm not an alcoholic. We'll leave it to the illegal minors to do that.

Liz Moody, a 2004 graduate of Johansen High School, is a student at the University of California at Berkeley. She can be reached at lizmoody@berkeley.edu.

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