Me at 17
I was 14 when I had my first sip of alcohol. It was at one of my friend's houses, her mom was away, and we broke into the liquor cabinet and siphoned a bit of whiskey. It tasted like shit, it burned my throat, but above all things I remember feeling unbelievably powerful. My parents couldn't touch that feeling. School couldn't even get close. I wanted to be a badass and set myself apart from the suburban drones that clogged the hallways of my high school existence, and alcohol was totally the liquid cure for my landlocked blues. (5 points to those of you who get that pretentious reference)
It was exciting to lie to my parents and sneak around and feel that buzz between my eyes. Drinking was the secret that bonded my friends and I together, galvanizing us in this unspoken rivalry, kids vs. parents, counterculture vs. mainstream, and in our minds, right vs. wrong.
In a lot of ways I'm grateful that I started experimenting at such a young age. It definitely set me up with an advantage at college; I am much more mature and responsible about alcohol than some of my friends who didn't drink in high school. And though I had quite the wild freshman year at NYU, drinking early did not feed me into a downward spiral into heavier and heavier drugs. (If anything I'm sure the level I experimented last year had more to do with living alone in New York City than anything)
But how young is too young? Drinking taught me how to be responsible, but it also taught me how to regret. There were the useless hookups, the Xanga entries that inevitably got me in trouble with my parents, and the bad decisions; I was never dumb enough to drive drunk, but I know a lot of people in my school were. It's irrational behavior like that that taints the inherently innocent nature of experimentation. Experimenting can lead to some pretty bad choices.
I think young girls especially need to watch out if they decide to start drinking at a young age. It's so easy to be taken advantage of that it's really quite frightening. If you're going to drink, go with a group of friends, don't put your drink down, and don't talk to a guy who has gel in his hair or a popped collar. In fact, that's rule number one. Popped collars/gel = rape.
Some of the things that really affected who I was in high school were shaped by alcohol. If you go to a small school like I did, you know that most rumors stem from nights that you kind of wish would just disappear. But they don't disappear, and they shape your reputation, and if your dad's the principal of your high school, then you're probably kind of fucked.
As with all things, experimentation is good in moderation. I fully support reducing the drinking age to 16, or at least 18, like in European countries; there's less alcohol abuse among people of all ages, and way less binge drinking. People there can have a casual glass of wine without progressing to shots and passing out with their skirt up around their hips and their best friend drawing dicks on them with sharpies. I fucking hate when that happens.