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Youth is a time of great consequence but few consequences. At least, it seems that way when you’re in it.

Every stage is marked with what feels like radical newness—high school, college, graduate school, first job. In a quick succession of years, there are new privileges to earn and to enjoy—driving, voting, drinking, living away from home. You are charged with staking your independence; friends are charged with egging you on; parents are charged with facilitating your transition from youth to adulthood.

And I do mean “youth,” as opposed to the “green and carefree” childhood described by poet Dylan Thomas. For the youth I’m concerned with—the youth I experience now in my early-20s, the youth of the college students and young professionals described in our cover story—is not quite carefree. It is a period of great promise, but also of great illusion: the promise of growth, education, exploration, improvement; the illusion that, whatever mistakes you make, you will always and for futurity have another chance.

To some extent, that’s true. The privilege of being young is that you have, as the adage goes, your whole life ahead of you. But who among us is immune to the blustery overconfidence, the self-professed immunity to ill, the hubris that accompanies little responsibility and considerable freedom?

It’s tempting to think that the stereotypical missteps of American youth—drug use, abuse of alcohol, unplanned pregnancies, unwanted sexual encounters, addictions of various kinds—are the concerns of “other families.” Someone else’s child. Some other parent’s purview.

We read about the consequences that celebrities face for their binge lifestyles: DUIs, drug overdoses, losing custody of their children, the accidental deaths of 20-somethings. Who among us accepts that the same kinds of “accidents” could happen to us, or to our children?

In December 2006, at my alma mater, Duke University, a med student’s life was tragically cut short by what may have amounted to a night of binge drinking. He was brilliant and talented, loved and respected, a model South Asian student with aspirations for a career of service. He had such incredible promise; his accidental death shattered all of our illusions.

The binge lifestyle is real. It is not all consuming, it is not an uncontrollable monster, it is not everybody’s problem, and it’s also not the end of the world. But we would all—youth and adult alike—be fools to think that our cultural backgrounds, our family values, our work ethics, and our good intentions somehow grant us immunity to addiction, over-indulgence, accidents, and regret.

Drink too much? You wake up with a hangover. Pull an all-nighter? You still have to go class the next day. And whether or not you try to forget what you did that night, or what happened at that party, or what your child didn’t tell you and you found out the hard way—all of us have to deal with the morning after.

Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan was Editor of India Currents from July 2007-June 2009. 

Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan has been a regular contributor to India Currents since 2001.