Teenagers, Beer, and Beer Cans
by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.
An average of 975 beer cans and bottles are tossed per mile of road annually in the US. The national ratio of beer cans to soda cans on roadsides in almost exactly two beer cans (not counting bottles) for every one soda can. Beer is the alcohol beverage overwhelmingly consumed by teenagers. On the other hand, the liquor and wine bottle discard rate is "virtually nil," according to the pioneering research by Aluminum Anonymous, a non-profit group headed by Dennis Brezina, its founder and Dirctor. 1
Evidence from several sources, including both anonymous surveys and confidential interviews, suggests that perhaps half of the discarded beer containers are tossed by teenagers. 2
Why so much beer container litter from teenagers? A health teacher pointed out that "(Teens) will throw them on the side of the road so they don't go home and have Mom and Dad see the cans." 3 Of course, many teens have probably chosen to drink in cars because of strict laws and their enforcement designed to prevent them from drinking in appropriate locations such as restaurants, taverns, or even in the safe environment of home and family.
Unfortunately, drinking in cars is one of the very worst places possible to consume alcohol Our laws have the unintended consequence of forcing young people into consuming alcohol in an extremely dangerous place and manner.
If we want to reduce such dangerous behavior, we should look for guidance to those societies that have very high rates of consumption but vey low rates of drinking problems. Such groups familiar to most people include Italians, Greeks, Jews, Spaniards, and Portuguese. These groups share three things in common:
- The substance of alcohol is seen as essentially neutral. It is seem neither as a magic elixir that will solve problems nor is it viewed as a poison to be shunned and equated with illegal street drugs. What matters is how it is used.
- There are two equally acceptable choices regarding alcohol. One is to abstain and the other is to use it sensibly and in moderation. Those who drink do not try to force alcohol on those who chose not to drink, and abstainers do not call drinkers "druggers" or try to dissuade them from moderation. What is never acceptable is the abuse of alcohol by anyone, any time, for any reason.
- Children learn about alcohol in the home from their parents. They learn how to drink as well as how not to drink. And this learning occurs in the safe, supportive environment of the parent's home. All thse successful groups would agree that it's better to learn about drinking in the parent's house than in the fraternity house.
If we want our young people to guzzle beer in the unsafe environment of cars, then we will ignore these keys to successful use of alcohol and continue our unsuccessful prohibitionist policies. Prohibition didn't work in the 1920's and 1930's, and it's not working now.
Will we ever have the courage to abandon our failed policies and embark on the proven successful path shown by others?