Just because something is illegal doesn’t mean that people don’t do it.
If you drive a car, you’ve gone over the speed limit, and probably more than once. Like today?
If you listen to music or watch movies, your iPod probably includes at least one item that you didn’t pay for.
And, if you’re a teenager, chances are that you’ve drank alcohol illegally, or at the very least you’ve been someplace where alcohol was available to you. In either instance it’s a crime, and teens are often arrested for violating underage drinking laws.
That’s what happened in Des Plaines, Ill., in late October. Police received an anonymous tip about an underage party. When they arrived at the address, two women leaving the house held the door open to police, granting an invitation to enter.
Twelve teens were ticketed for underage drinking. One 21-year-old guest was charged with encouraging the delinquency of a minor.
In June in the same town, more than 100 underage drinkers were ticketed by police at parties within a week.
Your reaction to what happened probably depends on your age.
If you are a parent, you are glad that police intervened before anything bad (as opposed to illegal) happened.
If you’re a teen, you probably think criminal charges are a bit extreme. What’s the harm in having a few beers?
The harm comes when you don’t yet know the difference between “a few beers” and “just a few more.” That’s what happened to eight college students at Occidental College in the neighborhood of Eagle Rock, Calif. They and several hundred others were attending a school-sponsored dance where guests danced under black lights while being splashed with paint. No alcohol was on hand.
But just because alcohol wasn’t provided at the dance doesn’t mean that students didn’t party on their own before arriving. Six collapsed on the dance floor and two others made it back to their rooms before problems arose. Paramedics were called, and all eight were taken to the hospital for alcohol poisoning.
Suffering from alcohol poisoning isn’t the same as being drunk. Alcohol poisoning is life-threatening. Victims can pass out and choke on their own vomit. They can suffer seizures. Their hearts can get an irregular heartbeat or even stop all together.
Even if a victim lives, becoming sober isn’t a cure. Alcohol poisoning can lead to irreversible brain damage.
Worst case scenarios rarely change anyone’s mind. It’s too easy to say, “That won’t happen to me.”
Odds are, you’re probably right. But, the thing about odds is that we all want to beat them; that’s why we buy lottery tickets.
Still, no one expects to win the lottery any more than those eight students at Occidental College expected to risk permanent brain damage.
The message here isn’t “don’t drink.” You’ve heard that before. If anything, the message is “don’t be stupid.”
It’s the same message that applies to exceeding the speed limit and downloading entertainment. Going 10 miles per hour faster than you should on an empty, straight road is different from drag racing in front of an elementary school, and downloading a song not yet available to buy is different from downloading a bootleg movie and selling it.
But “different” in each of these cases still isn’t right. You’re breaking the law, regardless of the justification.
If you’re an underage drinker, be glad the law you’re breaking doesn’t affect anyone but yourself. But just don’t gamble your choices too much.
You don’t want to beat the odds.
Erick Rommel writes the Coming of Age column for Catholic News Service