The "21 on 21" ritual is a game of "Russian Roulette" – twenty-one shots of alcohol on your 21st birthday. This cultural trend has frightening and destructive implications. What should you know about "21 on 21" so that you can protect your children, or yourself, from this game's potentially deadly consequences?
A vessel found dating to 618–907ad, from the Tang Dynasty, reveals that shots are an ancient implement used in drinking games. "[The vessel was] inscribed with a quotation from the Analects of Confucius – an instruction to drink, persuade others to drink, punish, or let go. It's believed to be a drinking game relic." (The Everything Bartender's Book, 2nd Ed.) There is nothing new under the sun and the games continue with devastating repercussions.
An article dated May 1, 2010 states the following: "Alberto [Lima Betancourt of Independence Missouri] took 21 shots to the gut. They all would hit his mother right in the heart. Raquel Sears' son died after performing the increasingly common "21 on 21" ritual, downing that many shots on that significant birthday." Alberto died of alcohol poisoning registering an astounding 0.459 alcohol content, six times the legal limit. Excessive alcohol consumption is the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States according to an article published in 2005.
An MSNBC article declared: "The ritual … appears to be far more common than expected..." It goes on to say, "Jesse Drews died in March  on his 21st birthday after a drinking binge. It's estimated that more than four out of every five American 21-year-olds drink alcohol to celebrate the birthday milestone, which is the legal drinking age in the United States. But a study shows that many young adults aren't just drinking to celebrate – they are drinking to extremes."
The Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology published a report which confirmed that, "Among those students who drank alcohol to celebrate their 21st birthdays, 34 percent of the men and 24 percent of the women reported consuming 21 or more drinks…" (ibid.). The report also warned that "half of the men and more than a third of the women who drank on their birthdays experienced blood alcohol levels of 0.26 or higher" which can "severely impair" and put the person "at risk for choking on vomit or suffering serious injury."
Many of those who take part in this rite of passage fail to see the monumental risks associated with "21 on 21." What's more, many are video recording the celebratory evening and posting their debauchery on social networking sites, thus further increasing the rite's fan base and potential for destruction.
Jesus Christ's first miracle was that of turning water into wine at a wedding supper (John 2:1-10). He was not against the consumption of alcoholic beverages, but without question, He would never endorse the excessive behavior that "21 on 21" encourages. In fact, scripture says, "Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand" (Philippians 4:5 KJV). Moderation in the consumption of alcohol is the key.
The Apostle Paul addressed the over-indulgence of alcohol by exhorting the Christians in Rome to "…walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness … But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts" (Romans 13:13-14).
Alberto, Jesse, and so many others, have died tragically and needlessly, by taking part in this custom. Had they chosen the path of moderation, not allowing the torrent of societal pressure to overtake them, they might still be alive today.
To learn more about living life responsibly and abundantly, read Bible Principles of Health. Also, read The Glamorization of Alcohol to gain further insight. If you are a parent, warn your children. If you are soon turning 21, reject the ritual of "21 on 21," and avoid the consequences of the ancient and deadly drinking games of "Russian Roulette!"