It's Better to Teach Safe Use of Alcohol
Many societies and groups have successfully prevented
alcohol problems. How we can apply their techniques both in our
families and in our society to reduce the abuse of beer, wine, and
distilled spirits or liquor?
With much wringing of hands, we seem to be a nation petrified by
the thought that someone somewhere may be drinking too much and
running amok. Many activists feed this paranoia with their insistence
on talking about alcohol in the same breath as illicit drugs.
And yet, humankind has had a relationship with beverage alcohol
for over 6,000 years, suggesting that we need to divorce the subject
from the emotionalism that has engulfed it, and approach it from
a more intelligent, reasonable perspective.
Abusive drinking is, without question, a serious problem. But we
will never make real progress against that problem until we take
a hard look at the approach modeled by those cultures that have
established a "truce" with alcohol--from Italians to Greeks,
to Jews to many others.
And what exactly is the model these cultures share? It can be defined
on three levels:
- Beliefs About the Substance of Alcohol - In these cultures,
the substance of alcohol is seen neutrally. It is neither a terrible
poison nor a magic potion.
- The Act of Drinking - The act of drinking is seen as natural
and normal. At the same time, there is little or no social pressure
to drink, and absolutely no tolerance for abusive drinking.
- Education About Drinking - Education about drinking starts
early and starts in the home. Young people are taught--under their
parents' supervision, through their parents' example--that if
they drink, they should drink moderately.
To date, this three-part approach has allowed many cultures to
avoid the alcohol abuse problems plaguing our society. Still, our
federal government and many others in the U.S. prevention field
fail to learn from this model--opting instead to depict alcohol
as a "dirty drug," something to be shunned and feared;
to promote abstinence as the best choice for all people; to work
toward reducing all drinking.
Contrasting alcohol "policy" in our culture with the
policies promoted elsewhere, we are presented with several logical
- Encourage moderate use of alcohol among those who choose to
drink. Moderate drinking and abstinence should be presented as
equally acceptable choices. Those who choose to drink should not
force drinking upon abstainers. Those who choose not to drink
should have comparable respect for those who do.
- Make systematic efforts to clarify and promote the distinctions
between acceptable and unacceptable drinking. Effective education
is based on much more than telling people what not to do.
- Firmly penalize unacceptable drinking, both legally and socially.
While the criminal justice system has an important role to play
in this effort, the most essential role is played by individual
peers. Intoxication must never be humored and never accepted as
an excuse for "bad behavior."
- End the current reduction-of-consumption approach to dealing
with alcohol abuse. This approach wrongly assumes that the substance
of alcohol is the necessary and sufficient cause of all drinking
problems and that the availability of alcohol determines the extent
to which it will be consumed and abused. Accordingly, policies
developed from this approach focus on limiting (or reducing) availability.
And because they are founded on questionable assumptions, such
policies not only fail to achieve their objectives, they may,
in fact, be counterproductive, especially when we consider the
evidence suggesting that moderate drinking can enhance individual
- Finally, end all attempts to stigmatize beverage alcohol as
a "dirty drug," as a poison, as inherently harmful.
Demonizing alcohol serves no practical purpose, contributes to
cultural emotionalism and ambivalence, and exacerbates the problems
it seeks to solve.
Reasonable people, reasonably concerned about these issues, should
give this proven approach a chance. If so, America will surely place
itself on course toward a far more successful relationship with
the beverage alcohol.
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