Although this article promotes making booze more accessible, the most important point to be made is that alcohol can be extremely damaging to your body.
Whether you're for or against the points below, know your limits.
You might be surprised at how much alcohol is too much. Click here for more info.
A group of friends spread out a blanket in Victoria Park. They take out some sandwiches, other snacks, a bottle of wine and a couple of beer. Plopping down on the ground they talk about school work and take turns showing memes and playing videos from their phones.
A tourist couple slowly stroll down Victoria Row in the early afternoon. The man has an open can of beer in one hand, his wife's hand in the other.
A park worker at Basin Head strolls down the crowded beach in the early evening. Families and groups of young people have their tents set-up for the night. The worker spots a group of young men sitting in circle with open beer bottles. “Are you boys eating?” she asks casually. They explain that they have been and open a cooler to show her hot-dogs, hamburgers and other snacks they’re about to open. She cracks a joke then carries on her way. They’re clearly buzzed but respectful.
Saturday night and a group of teenagers are marching down Water Street. They’re screaming drunkenly and playfully pushing each other. One of the teenage boys steps into the path of two passing strangers and starts mumbling about how drunk he is while one of his friends turns into an alley to take a piss. “Americans,” one of the passing strangers says. It's a common phrase. Young Americans who travel north to over-indulge on an island with a low drinking age are easily picked out of a crowd.
The music stops. The lights come on and everyone looks around, startled. “Okay, everyone get out,” a bouncer yells over the crowd. “Time to leave.” It’s almost 2 a.m.
People starting staggering towards the door. They talk loudly. A girl--with her elbows out, pushes through the crowd. People lurch forward as she makes way toward the exit. “Watch it, bitch!” someone yells as she passes.
Outside the bar, people crowd onto the street. People wave down cabs, pile in and leave. Others scuffle up to the closest smoker. “Hey man, can I bum one? I only smoke when I drink.”
An ages old pilgrimage begins. Groups and stragglers leave the bar and journey to one of the nearby restaurants to where they will most likely end the night. There’s probably gonna be a line at China Garden. If it’s too packed then there's the Canton. Perhaps Burrito Jax is a safe option to avoid lines. Or street meat. Or Pizza Brothers.
Charlottetown police will slowly drive by the crowds. They’ll intensely look for any signs of aggression before they come to fruition.
But there will be fights. Blood. Screaming and cursing. Lots of cursing. Name calling. More cursing. Singing in the streets. Crying for some reason. Guys pissing in the bushes. Maybe girls too. The phrase “hey watch this,” then something dumb happening. Whispers of “Don’t worry about it, I’m good to drive.” And vomit bursting onto the sidewalk.
As It Is
The two scenes above depict two sides of drinking culture. Most Islanders have experienced the latter--the ugly one. It’s a scene that most of us can look at soberly and say, “yep I’ve been there and it’s not that great.”
The drinking culture on PEI is currently one where the purpose of alcohol is used to get drunk. Sometimes obliterated drunk. It’s glorified. It’s the cool thing to do. In other drinking cultures that's not the case.
Anyone who has ever been to Europe has experienced their (Utopian- like) relaxed drinking laws. In cities throughout Italy, France, the UK, Germany and others, it’s commonplace to drink in public. Even for teenagers, it's not frowned upon to be seen with a drink in hand.
Closer to home we can look inside Canadian borders to see a drinking culture which is more lax and one where people don’t just drink to get drunk. Quebec.
Many Islanders have made the trek to Montreal for hockey games, university, or just to live. People from around the world travel to Montreal because it’s a fun city. There’s something for absolutely everyone. And there’s no judgement. Yet, it's uncommon to see very drunk people in the streets, or street brawls that are caused by drinking too much. There’s a healthy respect for drinking.
Yet their legal drinking age is 18, their bars are open until 3:00 a.m. and beer and wine is readily available in every corner store. However, hard alcohol is harder to get. That’s only available at provincially run liquor stores (SAQs).
Like their European counterparts “They are taught at an early age that alcohol is something to drink casually and in moderation, not to get drunk,” reads an excerpt from The Odyssey online. “Whereas in America, young people especially engage in binge drinking. Their goal for drinking is to get drunk. Sometimes they end up blacking out or worse. Nevertheless, they continue to do it.”
In a 2013 article, author Frances Woolley, a professor of economics at Carleton University asked the question “What’s wrong with public drinking?”. In it she mentions how the leader of the Ontario conservative party had said the Ontario government should start “treating people like adults” when it comes to liquor distribution and public drinking laws.
And that’s really what it comes down to. Treating people like adults.
It’s about having trust in one another to behave respectfully when it comes to drinking. It means trusting that the community--whether our local community or the provincial government, takes steps to properly educate people (especially young people) about the affects of drinking.
In a reply to her article, Jacques Rene Giguere explains his personal experience of the Quebec drinking culture:
“The feasibility of public drinking depends on the general drinking culture. Here (QC), like in Latin Europe,we learn to drink very early at the family table, not hidden in some backyard shed. We don't need to drink fast. My nephews all learned that diluted "daddy juice" is to be consumed with food in the company of other people while having long talk. What they call "uncle talk" is rather boring for an 8-year and rarely conducive to associate wine with unrestrained behavior. My oldest nephews are now nearing 20 and show no signs of going to glass anyone.
My college is the only one in the province to house both anglos and francos students in the same building. Most of the anglos come from the very religiously conservative Lower North Shore. The contrast between both groups during friday evening parties is sociologically interesting. Far less binge drinking and public intoxication among french than anglo students.”
Quebec’s drinking culture is one where citizens don’t have a cultural barrier to drinking. They wholefully accept alcohol as part of a meal, something to enjoy in moderation, and something to understand the dangers of.
Whereas in English drinking culture, including P.E.I.’s, there remains a veil between everyday life and life with a drink in your hand.
“Forbidden fruit often only tastes better than regular fruit because of what’s in the mind of the person eating it, rather than what’s in the fruit itself,” Scott Berkuns explains in an article. “A ban is lazy policy. It’s a failure to examine causes and effects of human behaviour, including the history of the causes and effects of banning things.”
On PEI we can view two ends of the spectrum in drinking culture. There’s the Quebec experience which accepts and respects alcohol starting at a young age. Then there’s the United States where the legal drinking age is 21.
It’s in the streets of Montreal where you can witness drunk young people being obnoxious while the locals nod their heads and says “Americians.”
In fact across the U.S., university and college presidents are signing onto the Amethyst Initiative. It’s mission is to “Rethink the Drinking Age”. The list includes presidents of Trinity College, Duke University, Texas A&M, Johns Hopkins University and hundreds more.
“Twenty-one is not working,” the initiative states. “A culture of dangerous, clandestine ‘binge-drinking’--often conducted off-campus has developed. Alcohol education that mandates abstinence as the only legal option has not resulted in significant constructive behavioral change among our students.
“Students under 21 are deemed capable of voting, signing contracts, serving on juries and enlisting in the military, but are told they are not mature enough to have a beer. By choosing to use fake IDs, students make ethical compromises that erode respect for the law.”
It should be clear that we can’t ostracize alcohol. It shouldn’t be viewed as a forbidden fruit for our youth or as a tool just to get drunk. There needs to be a healthy respect for drinking.
Yet, national stats always seem to point out that PEI has a drinking problem. It’s true, there are some big problems on PEI that are related to drinking.
In a 2014 report from Health Canada, it showed that P.E.I students had the highest rates of binge drinking and marijuana in the country.
It’s common practise for Islanders under the legal age of 19 to drink. In fact, at this point it’s culturally acceptable for underage teenagers to drink at home or in the home of a friend where there is adult supervision.
There’s the problem of drinking and driving. About 25% of all adult court cases on the Island revolve around DUIs. That's a whopping percentage compared to other provinces.
Impaired driving on P.E.I. is twice the national average.
In 2010 Island judges started enforcing the strictest penalties in the county for drunk drivers. Essentially everyone who was above the legal blood alcohol level went to jail. Yet, after three years of amount of impaired drivers only went down 3%. Not a very effective tactic.
And then of course most of us have a family member or friend or is an alcoholic or drinks too much.
In 2014, Dr. Chris Simpson, the President of the Canadian Medical Association, told The Guardian that “We don’t have good numbers of how many alcoholics we have.” However, “P.E.I. has a higher binge drinking rate than the rest of Canada.”
Simpson’s counterpart, Dr. David Bannon of the Medical Society of P.E.I. explained that “We often seem to be turning a blind eye or in worse cases we enable the behaviour. We have to first acknowledge that we have a serious problem with alcoholism and we have to deal with it.”
First of all, it should to be painfully clear by now that even small amounts of alcohol are bad for us. And especially, especially this. There is nothing cool about binge-drinking. At any age!
Alcohol is literally poison that we are putting into our bodies to have fun in an altered state of mind.
In a study on global alcohol rates and disease, lead author Kevin Shield explains that “alcohol consumption has been found to cause more than 200 different diseases and injuries. These include not only well-known outcomes of drinking such as liver cirrhosis or traffic accidents, but also several types of cancer, such as female breast cancer.”
The reality of the situation is that alcohol is always going to be part of our society. But it’s crucial that we minimize the damage to our bodies and the threat of alcoholism by drinking in moderation. And that includes a serious change to our drinking culture on P.E.I.
So here’s the thing. We have all these stats that tell us that Islanders drink too young, drink too much, and drink and do stupid things like drive.
But there’s a problem. What’s not being talked about are some of the root causes to the Island’s current drinking problems.
Like when we talk about underage teenagers drinking. For one, kudos to the parents out there who get it. It’s a step in the right direction to supervise teens having a few drinks. It normalizes drinking so that (hopefully) less and less young Islanders binge drink and more learn to drink in moderation.
Maybe a root problem behind underage drinkers is the fact that there’s nothing for young people to fucking do on the Island!
We’ve all been there. Driving up and down “the strip”, wondering what might be fun to do on the weekend. Outside of professional sports--which many Island teens can’t afford, there is very little to do. So young people turn to drinking for stimulation.
Teens need diverse sports, hobbies, games and leisure activities that are easily available for them to take part in. This is seriously lacking on the Island.
Then look at the drunk driver problem. Islanders so heavily rely on their cars and trucks on a daily basis that it’s painful. To go to work, school, get groceries, go to the gym, the bank, go to a park, go to a friends place, or go anyway, most Islanders need to drive there. It’s a nice perk on the Island to have lots of wide open space around us, but the disadvantage to that is our reliance on vehicles.
What’s really missing is any sort of public transport between municipalities and a lack of taxis outside Charlottetown and Summerside.
No wonder so many people get caught drinking and driving. If they want to have a couple beer at a friends house or at a bar they need to pack an overnight bag or risk getting behind the wheel. Accessible public transport is needed across the Island and an initiative to have more taxis in rural areas.
And the problem of Islanders who drink too much or binge drink. That's a tough one. What’s the root problem there? It’s not so obvious. But a main reason maybe the phrase that many Islanders say. “I’m working to survive.”
Working to get by.
That’s pretty depressing.
It’s shown that people in lower socio-economic statuses tend to buy more alcohol than those who are better off. It’s understandable why. Getting drunk is a chance to briefly forget about life’s difficulties. What’s needed is a bolder plan for poverty-reduction. But also, easily accessible sports, games, and hobbies for people to take part in. Especially during those long winters. People who are off work or working part-time need to stay stimulated. That goes for adults as much as it does young people.
P.E.I. doesn’t need harsher penalties for drinking and driving, or more laws to try to curb an unhealthy drinking culture, because it’s proven that those things aren’t effective. They don’t address the root problems.
What P.E.I. needs is to start treating citizens and our guest from away as adults. We need more education about the harms of drinking, and to take drinking out of the back shed. Drinking isn’t a coping mechanism or a forbidden fruit. It’s a social tool that we need to be informed about and to enjoy in moderation.
We should work towards adopting a more healthy drinking culture. Specifically, P.E.I. should implement a healthier drinking culture like Quebec’s.
That would mean making hard booze harder to get. Stats show that PEI has by far the highest intake of hard alcohol compared to beer and wine. Quebec is the total opposite.
In Quebec beer and wine can be found in depaneurs (stores) on every corner. But if you want vodka or whiskey you need to know where to go.
In a large study released by BMJ Open last week, the stats show that hard alcohol tends to trigger violent reactions in people. Whereas beer and wine made people more mellow.
So, step one. Make hard booze harder to get.
Step two. Educate people (especially young people) on the dangers of drinking. Remove the taboo that surrounds alcohol today so that people start to normalize it and understand how bad copious amounts of it is to your body.
Step three. Lower the legal drinking age to 18. That will expand the market to help pay for the educational promos that are needed. But it will also start treating people like adults. Even our young adults.
Step four. Relax the public drinking rules. In Montreal it's totally kosher to drink wine in a park as long as your eating food. Rarely are there problems. Why not have the same on PEI. It will boost tourism and bring more people outside.
Step five. Public transit is needed across the Island. It's a huge, underlying problem on the Island, but P.E.I. is a car culture. However daunting it might be, that needs to be addressed. Because of it drinking and driving will always be an issue--as well as other problems not related to this subject.
Step six. Move the cut-off time for serving alcohol to 3:00am, not 2:00. It shouldn't be a race for people to get drunk before the timer rings. That encourages binge drinking. And again, it would be a boost to tourism and the economy.
It can't be more clear that large amounts of booze is bad for us. Especially binge drinking. But drinking isn't going anyway. So we need to talk about some fundamental problems.
We need to remove the veil surrounding alcohol, learn about its dangers, and learn how to consumer it in moderation.