|According to a survey done by a sociology class on campus last year, 84 percent of students reported drinking less after their 21st birthday than before.|
Sixteen-year-olds can drive. Eighteen-year-olds can vote, go into the military and buy tobacco. Twenty-one-year-olds can drink, and when they reach that landmark birthday, that's what they do.
"In our culture there's really nothing else that happens when you turn 21 except that you're now able to drink legally," said Pam McCracken, director of Drug and Alcohol Prevention Education.
Turning 21 is one of life's major celebrations for most people. Some go out at midnight, the minute they turn 21, and start drinking. Most bars in town offer a free birthday shot for 21-year-olds, or sometimes more than one. Favorite birthday traditions include drinking 21 shots and friends buying the most unpleasant-tasting shot they can find for the newly legal drinker.
"If they come in and it's their 21st birthday and they're not completely wasted, we give them one free birthday shot," said Pete Borba, owner of Sullivan's Tavern. "We ask their friend what kind of shot to give them because it's more fun that way."
Ryan Byrne, a senior civil engineering major, recalls his 21st birthday as being "one of the most fun nights of (his) life."
His birthday began at midnight, when he and some friends went to Sullivan's. He had a few drinks that night, but waited until the following evening, his real birthday, to go all-out.
He recounts starting to drink at about seven that evening at the Rio with a shot of tequila. Next, he and some friends hit Coopersmith's, where Byrne had about four shots and two beers. Tailgate Tommy's is where things started to get blurry. For his free birthday drink, the bartender lined up seven shots in a row, three of water and four of gin. After that, he remembers having two more shots, one being a Prairie Fire (Tabasco and tequila), and then throwing up off the roof of Tailgate Tommy's.
"I don't know how many shots I had total," Byrne(CQ) said. "It was quite a few. I made it the whole night, which is good. A lot of people don't do that."
In order to congratulate people on turning 21, the Wellness Zone sends a card to every student that has a 21st birthday between the months of September and May. The card reminds students to "Practice Safe 86," the campaign encouraging students to have a designated driver when they are drinking. With the card, the student is eligible to come in to the Wellness Zone and receive a birthday present.
"It's just to remind them that maybe there're other things to do than drink your age in shots," McCracken said. "We just wish them well and remind them to be safe and that kind of thing."
At 21, drinking is legal. But some say drinking too much is actually less common with drinkers over 21 than those that are underage.
"I would say I drink substantially less now than when I was underage," Byrne(CQ) said. "I've become more of a responsible drinker since I've gotten older. You just kind of learn your limit and that getting completely trashed isn't really a classy thing to do. It's just a maturity thing, too."
Sergeant Reed Beery said the CSU Police Department spends by far the most time dealing with crimes related to alcohol, whether the drinkers are underage or over 21.
"Alcohol creates all sorts of problems," he said. "You rarely have a fight that alcohol wasn't an issue in; you rarely have a domestic violence that alcohol wasn't involved in."
He did say, however, the majority of alcohol-related tickets the department writes are to underage drinkers. Many of the driving under the influence and open container tickets given are to underage students, especially at this early point in the school year.
"As people get over that 'Oh, my first beer in college,' syndrome, it may balance out a little more (between underage and overage drinkers)," Beery said (CQ). "If you're not 21, don't drink. That's our wish. We know that's not the case, but that's our wish."