Federal Agencies: Temperance Approach Toward Alcohol
Anti-alcohol strategies promoted by many alcohol groups and agencies include asserting that alcohol is a gateway drug leading people into illicit drug use, describing alcohol as a poison, and insisting that "Alcohol is the dirtiest drug" we have.
The zealots who propagandized for the disastrous National Prohibition early in this century acted in a time when there was little scientific knowledge about the effects of alcohol and they had strange ideas.
Consider these ridiculous assertions:
- Alcohol is the dirtiest drug we have. It permeates and damages all tissue. No other drug can cause the same degree of harm that it does.
- Alcohol is harmful to the body.
- Alcohol is a poison, and drinking it might lead to death.
- Alcohol is toxic (no level of consumption indicated).
- The effects of alcohol on men (no level of consumption indicated) are that hormone levels change, causing lower sex drive and enlarged breasts.
- Alcohol is a gateway drug leading people into illicit drug use.
- Alcohol (no level of consumption indicated) can cause deterioration of the heart muscle.
Astonishingly, all these statements, which are very misleading at best, were not made by prohibitionists of old but by officials representing governmental agencies of today. Significantly, the comments are not based on scientific evidence but instead seem to reflect a neo-prohibitionist effort to stigmatize alcohol.
The effort to stigmatize alcohol includes promoting the prohibitionist belief that there is no difference between moderate drinking and alcohol abuse--the two are portrayed as one and the same. This leads the U.S. Department of Education to direct schools and colleges to reject educational programs which promote responsible drinking among adults and instead favor a simplistic call for total abstinence.
Part of this oversimplified approach is the notion that alcohol is a dangerous gateway drug that seduces users to begin using illegal drugs. The supposed "proof" provided is that most people who are involved with illicit drugs drank alcohol initially. Of course, most illicit drug users also drank milk, ate candy bars, and drank cola previously. But don't annoy the neo-prohibitionists with evidence or logic.
Some federal and state agencies also systemically attempt to equate legal alcohol consumption with illegal drug use. For example, federal guidelines direct agencies to substitute "alcohol and drug use" with "alcohol and other drug use," to replace "substance abuse" with "alcohol and other drug abuse," and to avoid use of the term "responsible drinking" altogether.
Alcohol is also frequently associated with crack cocaine and other illegal drugs by discussing them in the same paragraph. Often the effort is more blatant. A poster picturing a wine cooler warns "Don't be fooled. This is a drug."
Technically, this assertion is correct. Any substance --salt, vitamins, water, food, etc.-- that alters the functioning of the body is a drug. But the word "drug" has negative connotations and the attempt is clearly to stigmatize a legal product that is used pleasurably in moderation by most American adults.
In stigmatizing alcohol as a "drug," however, neo-prohibitionists may be inadvertently trivializing the use of illegal drugs and thereby encourage their use. Or, especially among youngsters, these zealots may be creating the false impression that parents who use alcohol in moderation are drug abusers whose good example should be rejected by their children. Thus, this misguided effort to equate alcohol with illicit drugs is likely to be counterproductive.
Instead of stigmatizing alcohol and trying either to scare or force people into abstinence, we need to recognize that it is not alcohol itself but rather the misuse of alcohol that is the problem. The vast majority of American adults do in fact use alcohol in moderation to enhance the quality of their lives with no ill effects. The neo-prohibitionist attack on alcohol is proving to be not only deceptive and ineffective, but dangerously counterproductive in the effort to teach the responsible use of alcohol.
- 27. New York State Division of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse. Don't be fooled. (Poster) Albany, NY: New York State Division of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, n.d.
Readings (Listing does not imply endorsement)
- Ford, Gene. The Benefits of Moderate Drinking: Alcohol, Health and Society. San Francisco, CA: Wine Appreciation Guild, 1988.
- Georgia Department of Education. Quality Core Curriculum, Health and Safety, K-12. Atlanta, GA: Georgia Department of Education, n.d.
- Kaufman, E. The relationship of alcoholism and alcohol abuse in the abuse of other drugs. American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 9. Cited by Ford, Gene. The Benefits of Moderate Drinking. San Francisco, CA: Wine Appreciation Guild, 1988. pp. 137-138.
- Lauderdale, Michael L. An Analysis of the Control Theory of Alcoholism. Denver, CO: Education Commission of the States, 1977.
- Maine State Department of Education. Leadership in Maine. (Poster) Augusta, ME: Maine State Department of Education, n.d.
- Mielke, Dan and Holstedt, Peggy. Oregon Alcohol and Drug Prevention Education (ADADE) Infused Lesson Guide, K12. Salem, OR: Oregon Department of Education and Eastern Oregon State College, 1991.
- Modell, Walter. Mass drug catastrophes and the roles of science and technology. Science, 1967, 156, 346-351.
- Morton, Mary B. Criteria for the Development of Selection of Drug Prevention Curricula. Atlanta, GA: Southeast Regional Center for Drug-Free Schools and Communities, 1990.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: Alcohol and Health: Third Special Report to the U.S. Congress. Rockville, MD: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 1978. DHEW Publication No. ADM 78-569.
- New York State Division of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse. Alcohol: The Gateway Drug. Albany, NY: New York State Division of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, n.d.
- New York State Division of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse. Do You use Drugs? (Poster) Albany, NY: New York State Division of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, n.d.c.
- New York State Division of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse. Don't be fooled. (Poster) Albany, NY: New York State Division of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, n.d.d.
- Office for Substance Abuse Prevention. Be Smart! Don't Start! Just Say No! Rockville, MD: Office for Substance Abuse Prevention, 1987. Department of Health and Human Services Publication No. ADM 87-1502.
- Office for Substance Abuse Prevention. Drug-Free Communities: Turning Awareness into Action. Rockville, MD: Office for Substance Abuse Prevention, 1989. Department of Health and Human Services Publication No. ADM 89-1562.
- Rose, Peter. If it feels good, it must be bad. Fortune, 1991. 122, pp. 91, 92, 96, 100, 104, and 108.
- Single, Eric W. The availability theory of alcohol-related problems. In: Chaudron, C. Douglas and Wilkinson, D. Adrian (eds.) Theories on Alcoholism. Toronto, Canada: Addiction Research Foundation, 1988. pp. 325-351.
- U.S. Department of Education. Drug Prevention Education. Washington, DC: Department of Education, 1988.
- Washburne, Chander. Primitive Drinking: A Study of the Uses and Functions of Alcohol in Preliterate Societies. New York: College and University Press, 1961.
Filed Under: Prohibition