“21 at 21” Places Partiers at Serious Risk

FCLC Students Celebrate with Fewer Drinks


Published: May 1, 2008

Turning 21 serves as a rite of passage into the legal world of drinking alcohol. You can finally order a drink without fearing that the bartender will realize that you are not a 25-year-old, 6’6” blond.

According to a recent study from the University of Missouri, four out of five people drink to celebrate their 21st birthday. Researchers estimate that 34 percent of men and 24 percent of women participate in a ritual of consuming 21 drinks to match their age. According to the study, this often involves downing shots.

While Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) students are indeed drinking on their 21st birthdays (and some heavily), the consensus is that the “21 at 21” ritual is uncommon.

“I haven’t had any friends here at Fordham do the 21 shots thing,” said Willa Burke, FCLC ’09. She describes her 21st birthday as an “enjoyable experience,” in which she consumed more drinks than usual, which was about nine or 10.

“I’ve only ever heard of [21 drinks or shots] as more of a cautionary tale,” said Alyssa Camacho, FCLC ’08. “Though I can’t think of a single friend who didn’t drink excessively on their 21st birthday.” For her 21st, Camacho went to a bar where she got a complimentary birthday fishbowl. “Then I had a few mixed drinks and at least three shots.”

The results note that half of the men and a third of the women who drank for their 21st birthdays experienced blood alcohol levels of 0.26 or higher. This is a “level at which a person is severely impaired and at risk for choking on vomit or suffering serious injury,” according to a recent New York Times article.

Cally Speed, FCLC ’08, is unaware of anyone at Fordham attempting “21 at 21” but has experienced it firsthand elsewhere. “I went to visit a friend at his school for his 21st birthday, and his friends bought him 21 shots. They had them all lined up on the bar, and he took them all within an hour or so,” she said.

After leaving early that night and going back to school, Speed was unable to get in touch with her friend. After finally reaching him the following morning, Speed heard the aftermath of completing all 21 shots. “He told me he had alcohol poisoning, and since he lives alone, no one took him to the hospital and he was throwing up for two days.”

“I feel that the 21st birthday is considered an important event because it is the last legal measure of adulthood,” said Edward Wahesh, director of the Alcohol and Other Drug Education Program.

Though unfamiliar with how drinking on your 21st birthday to celebrate turned into consuming 21 drinks, Wahesh sees the risks involved. “[Drinking to celebrate] combined with the college environment and the stages of physical and psychosocial development that young adults are experiencing can lead to situations where high risk drinking occurs,” he said. “It is important to identify and be aware of these situations and plan accordingly.”

Kathleen Malara, director of student health services, said that she is not personally aware of FCLC students drinking in excess to the point that they vomit or go to the hospital. “[Student Health Services] deal with the hangover the next day,” said Malara. “But most certainly, the opportunity to consume alcohol is around every corner.”

On her 21st, Becca Webster, FCLC ’09,  drank some champagne before going out, then two drinks and three shots at the bar. Webster noted that students are more likely to drink excessively on their birthdays because other people want to buy them drinks. However, according to Webster, she had no idea people do 21 shots on their birthdays. “That sounds like suicide,” she said. “My guess is that anyone who would do that would probably habitually take ridiculous amounts of shots.”

“Most of us know our limits, which for some can be quite high,” Burke said. “And though we may push them a bit, I think most of us respect them.”

For various reasons, however, some FCLC students celebrate more modestly and barely push their alcohol limits.

“For my 21st birthday, I stayed in and studied for a midterm I had the next day and did a paper that was due for the same class,” said David Matthews, FCLC ’08. “I did, however, drink two or three beers and watched ‘Father of the Bride 2’ on TV as a means of taking a break.”

Since consuming more alcohol than she ever had on her 21st birthday, Camacho said she has not drunk that much since. “If I plan on going out, I always have a bottle of water and Advil next to my bed.”