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Penn State Underage Drinking and Public Drunkenness: An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure

Underage drinking and public drunkenness charges are ubiquitous in a college town like State College, PA, where I work as a criminal defense attorney. Just because you drink underage or to excess here at Penn State does not mean you are going to be caught. In fact, there are certain steps you can take to avoid a dreaded underage drinking or pubic drunkenness charge. Of course, the easiest way to avoid an underage drinking charge is to simply not drink, but such advice is as hopelessly naive as abstinence only sex education. The reality is that young people have always drunk and will always drink, no matter how many times hypocritical adults tell them to wait until age 21. If you are going to drink, doing so responsibly may not only save you from a wicked hangover, but also spare you from some significant legal consequences.

Contrary to popular belief among Penn State students, the police are not out to bust as many underage drinkers as they can. They do not have quotas and they don't get a bounty. Usually, the underage drinker has done something to draw attention to himself and stand out from the crowd. Thus, issuing underage drinking citations for the police in and around State College is like shooting fish in a barrel. There is no need for the police to go out of their way to find underage drinkers, the way they have to hunt down real criminals. So, the key to not getting an underage drinking citation is not standing out from the crowd.

The classic way to stand out from the crowd is to be drunker than everyone else. Just as the cheetah focuses on the wounded gazelle, so too will the police focus upon the drunkest student in the herd. And this applies equally to those over 21 as well. If you are drunk to the point of inebriation, you are at risk of receiving a public drunkenness citation, not to mention a trip to Mount Nittany Medical Center. So if you want to avoid an underage drinking or public drunkenness citation, don't be "that guy" or "that girl!"

Over and over again, I see the same factors leading to a liver-punishing degree of intoxication. First of all, day drinking is far more popular now than it was when I was a Penn State student in the early 1990s. Whether it's State Patty's Day, Arts Fest or a home football game, there are plenty of day drinking opportunities at Penn State. But here is the problem with day drinking. The earlier in the day you drink, the less alcohol it takes to get you drunk. I am not a biologist, but I believe it has something to do with the body's circadian rhythms and fluctuations in alcohol metallization enzymes throughout the day. Also, you have less food in your system to slow the absorption of alcohol earlier in the day. You should never drink until you have had at least two meals that day, and by all means, never drink on an empty stomach!

It used to shock me that so many of my clients ended up with underage drinking and/ or public drunkenness charges after drinking on an empty stomach. It shocked me because I am no stranger to alcohol myself, and the concept of drinking on an empty stomach makes me squeamish. I am no longer shocked, simply because I have dealt with this situation so many times. The most common examples of drinking on an empty stomach are drinking at a tailgate before noon football kick-offs and people who start drinking at happy hour, but never eat supper. I am also shocked by how many girls eat only a light supper or no supper before a night of heavy boozing, because they are worried about calories!

These drinking on an empty stomach scenarios can easily be avoided. Rather than getting your drink on at 10:00 a.m., drink AFTER the game. Likewise, if you are going to start drinking at happy hour, go to a bar that serves food. If you are worried about calories, by all means, do not choose alcohol calories over food calories! Trust me, ladies. As a guy I can tell you that nearly all men prefer a sober girl with a few extra pounds over a thin girls covered in her own puke.

Drinking on an empty stomach is not the only danger, which often befalls the tailgate drinker. Drinking at a tailgate entails drinking with an open container in your hand, and when you have a youthful appearance, you are basically asking for an underage drinking citation. Normally, when people do something illegal, they try not to do it in front of the police. Yet at a Penn State football game, hundreds of cops from numerous jurisdictions are concentrated in and around Beaver Stadium. Thus, the Beaver Stadium parking lot on game day is probably the least safe place in Pennsylvania for an underage kid to drink. Do so at your own peril. You have been warned.

Hard liquor is yet another factor leading to underage drinking and public drunkenness charges. The rate of hard liquor consumption in relation to beer has skyrocketed in recent years. This may be due to the fact that beer prices have increased considerably over the past 20 years, while hard liquor prices have not risen nearly as much. College students are incredibly price sensitive, so this may explain the trend.

Whatever the cause of the trend, hard liquor leads to far more alcohol casualties than beer. The old adage that one glass of wine, one shot of liquor and one glass of beer are equivalent is, quite frankly, a load of bunk. I understand that the purveyors of this myth were trying to make the point that you should not take beer lightly, just because it has lower alcohol content than hard liquor, yet the message received by inexperienced drinkers is that hard liquor is no different than beer, so we might as well drink hard liquor.

Here is why beer, wine and hard liquor are not equivalent and why hard liquor is worse than beer and wine. First of all, different wines, beers and spirits vary tremendously in their alcohol contents. For example, Coors Lite does not have as much alcohol as a Maibock. Perhaps more importantly, you can drink a lot more hard liquor in a short period of time than you can drink beer or wine. Alcohol does not hit you immediately. There is a delay before you start feeling its effects. When you are drinking hard liquor, it is often difficult to realize that you have had too much, until it is too late, especially if you are an inexperienced drinker.

Alcohol is a part of Penn State culture, which is here to stay. You don't need to drink to have a good time, and you are always going to have a better time sober than a night where you end up at either Mount Nittany Medical Centre, Centre County Correctional Facility or with yellow pieces of paper from a cop. If you do choose to drink, I hope you heed the advice offered in this blog and drink responsibly, but if you were not so lucky, and have been charged with an alcohol-related crime, you should call me at 866. 806.1061 for a free consultation. http://www.mattmlaw.com/Criminal-Defense-Overview/Underage-Drinking.shtml

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