Alcohol Abuse Can be Reduced (Here’s Exactly How)

This page will show that alcohol abuse can be reduced.

The substance of ethanol is the same around the world. What does vary greatly are three things. First, the beliefs and attitudes that people have about alcohol. Second, their behaviors in relation to it. Third, the results of their consumption of it.

In many groups and societies, most people drink, they often do so daily, yet they experience few alcohol problems. Such groups familiar to most people include Jews, Italians, Greeks, Spaniards, and Portuguese.

There are three major keys to the success of such groups.1

    1. First, alcohol is viewed as a neutral substance. It is seen neither as a poison that seduces its victims nor as a magic elixir that transforms people into what they would like to be. What is important is how alcohol is used, and that is what determines whether it is good or bad.
    2. Second, such groups provide two options, each of which is equally acceptable morally and socially. One option is to abstain from alcohol. The other option is to use alcohol in moderation. What is totally unacceptable is the misuse of alcohol by anyone, anytime, for any reason.
    3. Third, people learn to drink alcohol sensibly and they do so from an early age in the home. They learn appropriate drinking behavior from their parents, whose good model of behavior they emulate. If they over-imbibe, they do so in the safe environment of the home where they can be guided to correct behavior. They don’t learn to drink at university, in a fraternity house, in the military, or other environments.

It is clear that alcohol policies and education will fail to to the extent that they do the following.

  • Fail to distinguish the use from the abuse of alcohol.
  • Stigmatize alcohol as a poison.
  • Stigmatize those who consume it in moderation.
  • Accept intoxication as an excuse for bad behavior.
  • Prevent young people from learning how to drink in moderation.

Alcohol Abuse Can be Reduced through Parenting

The single most effective way that parents can reduce alcohol abuse among their children is to be good role models. They do so by drinking alcohol sensibly. What parents do is much more important than what they say. It is important to remember that in the long run parents are even more influential than are peers.2

To a large degree, what we think is more important than what and how much we drink. This can be seen in many ways at the group and societal level.3

Unfortunately, many people believe a dangerous myth. It’s that a beer has less alcohol than a shot of whiskey or other spirits. And also that a glass of dinner wine has less alcohol than the shot of spirits. But more than a beer.

Alcohol Abuse Can be ReducedHowever, standard drinks of beer, wine, and spirits all have the same amount of alcohol. Specifically, it’s 0.6 ounce of pure alcohol. This is alcohol equivalence.

A standard drink is a

  • 12-ounce can or bottle of regular beer
  • 5-ounce glass of dinner wine
  • One shot (one and one-half ounces) of 80 proof spirits such as vodka, tequila, rum, etc.

Policies should not focus on the substance of alcohol but on how it is perceived and consumed. Of course, policies that fail to recognize alcohol equivalence tend to mislead people. And they contribute to the myth.


People in Europe and North America commonly believe that intoxication causes disinhibition. And throughout those areas it sometimes leads to “disinhibited” behavior. Intoxication provides a convenient “time out.” During that time people can do  things  they ordinarily wouldn’t be free to do. ‘”That was not I, but the alcohol.” The desire for such an excuse may actually motivate intoxication. 4

However, in some societies people do not believe that intoxication disinhibits. In those societies it doesn’t lead to disinhibition. Examples include the

Yuruna of South America. 5

People of Vicos in the Peruvian Andes.6

Camba of eastern Bolivia.7

Aritama of northem Columbia.8

People of Ifaluk Atoll in the Caroline Islands.9

Takashima of Japan. 10

Mixtec of Mexico. 11

In all of these societies, people become highly intoxicated, often to the point of passing out. However, they never ever become disinhibited.

Targets of Aggression

alcohol abuse can be reducedThe acceptable targets of aggression during intoxication vary from group to group. Women are never subject to aggression by drunken husbands among the Cuna of Central America.12 On the other hand, they are likely to be assaulted by drunken husbands among the Ainu of northern Japan.13

Similarly, children are never assaulted by drunken parents among the Chamula of the Central American highlands.14 Drinking spouses sometimes assault each other among North Americans. Yet they almost never assault their parents.

Situational Norms

Among the Maori of New Zealand, drinking occurs at drinking sessions or at drinking parties. The amount of alcohol consumed is comparable at both. However, at drinking sessions people tend to become drowsy and relaxed. But at drinking parties, they tend to become happy and noisy, violence is quite common. Also there is a sexual undertone, and behavior is usually egocentric and self-enhancing.15

Among the Taira of Okinawa there is no aggression when men and women drink together. But when men drink alone, quarreling and even brawling sometimes occurs. When the Tecospans of Mexico drink among themselves, violence never occurs. However, when they drink with others, disputes, conflict and fighting are common. 16

The Chippewa of Minnesota distinguish between “white” and “Indian” drinking. “White drinking” is relatively calm and polite.”Indian drinking” tends to be loud, boisterous, and often aggressive. White drinking behavior typically occurs when drinking in white bars. Indian drinking typically occurs in Indian bars. A white anthropologist reported the following. “Chippewa acquaintenances, unexpectedly meeting the author in an Indian bar, have dropped Indian drinking behaviors and assumed white drinking for the course of the conversation.”17

Such differences in behavior may sound surprising. But how many people act the same way under very different situations? For example, when drinking at a wedding reception compared to drinking at a New Year’s Eve party?

Intoxicated Behavior Can Change Over Time

Genetic differences cannot explain group differences in intoxicated behavior because it often changes over time. For example, among the Papago people of southern Arizona, men would traditionally drink heavily, then vomit. Then drink heavily again and vomit. They would continue in such a cycle of behavior. Yet they always behaved themselves.

However, beginning in 1933 many men entered conservation work camps. Then they had military service in World War Two. These events brought them into close contact with whites. Of course, this also taught them that alcohol disinhibits and that it provides an excuse for bad behavior. By the end of that war, many Papago men had become disinhibited drinkers. 18

On the other hand, the Tahitians of the South Pacific reversed that order.  Theyoriginally drank heavily and became violent after sailors introduced them to alcohol. Now they drink heavily but are not violent when drunk.

Intoxicated Behavior Can Change Quickly

Many Europeans and North Americans have been in situations when drunken people must suddenly conduct themselves in a sober manner.  And do so. For example, upon observing an traffic crash, they may phone for an ambulance. They may direct traffic, give first aid, etc..

Intoxicated Behavior Tends to Operate “Within the Limits” Set by Society

The Lepchas of the Himalayas are highly preoccupied with sex. For example, it’s the most common topic of conversation. They’re also very promiscuous. However, they rigidly prohibit incest and punish it by death. Lepchas include within the incest taboo sexual relations with blood relatives for nine generations on the father’s side.  And for four on the mother’s. They also include a large number of distant relatives by marriage. However, no matter how drunk they become, Lepchas never violate the taboo. Even while intoxicated, they operate “within the limits” set by their society. 2

Historians give many examples of this phenomenon from the early European settlers of North America.  It was common for Native Americans to observe that settlers used alcohol as an excuse for bad behavior. However, when Native Americans went beyond the limits permitted by settlers, they often suffered catastrophically. Afterward, the natives would behave in an apparently disinhibited manner when intoxicated. Yet they rarely went beyond the established acceptable limits. They had learned that to do so was to invite disaster. 21

Psychological studies shed additional light on the “think drink” phenomenon. That is, what we think about what we drink influences what we experience. 22


alcohol abuse can be reducedResearchers instruct alcoholics not to drink for a number of hours. They then verify this by breath tests.  Then they give the alcoholics a placebo “drink.” The alcoholics get relief from physical and mental distress. However, when such subjects are given alcohol which they falsely believe is not alcohol, they continue to experience distress. 23

This phenomenon may explain anecdotal reports of alcoholic priests who are no longer drinkers. However, they consume communion wine with no triggering of any addictive mechanism. Of course, they believe that what they’re drinking is no longer actually alcohol.


Men who falsely believe that they have been drinking alcohol become less anxious in social situations. On the other hand, women who falsely believe that they have been consuming alcohol become more anxious in social situations. 24


Carefully done lab research has studied aggression. Men who falsely believe that they have been drinking alcohol become more aggressive. However, they become relatively less aggressive when they falsely think they are drinking only tonic water.  But they’re really drinking tonic water and alcohol. 25

Sexual Arousal

alcohol abuse can be reducedMen tend to become more sexually aroused from viewing erotica when they falsely believe that they have been consuming alcohol. Arousal is measured by strain gauge to measure penile firmness. Women report feeling more aroused from viewing erotica when they falsely believe that they have been consuming alcohol. However, a measure of vaginal blood flow demonstrates that they are physically becoming less aroused. 26

Clearly, what people think can be more important than what they drink.

Conclusion: Societies have the type of intoxicated behavior that they expect and that they permit. So alcohol abuse can be reduced.

Of course, what societies expect and what they permit are closely related.

We need to accept the wisdom of the ancient Chines proverb, roughly paraphrased. Drinking problems are not the fault of alcohol but of people.

References for Alcohol Abuse Can be Reduced

  • 1. Hanson, D. Preventing Alcohol Abuse: Alcohol, Culture, and Control. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1995. Details how alcohol abuse can be reduced.
  • 2. ______. Alcohol Education: What We Must Do. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1996.
  • 3. Heath, D. A Decade in the Development in the Anthropological Study of Alcohol Use. In: Douglas, M. (Ed.) Constructive Drinking. Cambridge: Cambridge U Press,1987. MacAndrew, C, and Edgerton, R. Drunken Comportment: A Social Explanation. Chicago: Aldine, 1969. Mandelbaum, D. Alcohol and Culture. In: Marshall, Mac (Ed.) Beliefs, Behaviors, & Alcoholic Beverages Ann Arbor: U Michigan Press, 1979. Washburne, C. Primitive Drinking. NY: College and U Press, 1961. Early report that alcohol abuse can be reduced.
  • 4. Room, R. The impossible dream? — Routes to reducing alcohol problems in a temperate culture. J Sub Abuse, 1992, 4, 91-106.
  • 5. Nimuendaju, C. Tribes of the Lower and Middle Xingu River, In: Stewart, J. (Ed.) Handbook of South American Indians. Vol. 3. The Tropical Forest Tribes. Washington: GPO, 1948.
  • 6. Mangin, W. Drinking among Andean Indians. Q J Stud Alc, 1957, 18, 55-66.alcohol abuse can be reduced
  • 7. Heath, D. Drinking patterns among the Bolivian Camba. Q J Stud Alco, 1958, 19, 49I-508.
  • 8. Reichel-Dolmatoff, G., and Reichel-Dolmatoff, A . The People of Aritama. London: Routledge, 1961.
  • 9. Burrows, E. From value to ethos on Ifaluk atoll. Southwest J Anthro, 1952, 8,13-35. Bates, M., and Abbott, D. Coral Island: Portrait of an Atol. NY: Scribner’s Sons, 1958.
  • 10. Norbeck, E. Takashima: A Japanese Fishing Community. Salt Lake City: U Utah Press, 1954.
  • 11. Romney, K, and Romney, R. The Mixtecans of Juxtlahuaca, Mexico. In: Whiting, B. (Ed.) Six Cultures. NY: Wiley, 1963.
  • 12. Wafer, L. A New Voyage and Description of the Isthmus of America. Series 2, No. 73. Oxford: Hakluyt Soc, 1934.
  • 13. Washburn, C. Primitive Drinking. NY: College and U Press,1961.
  • 14. Bunzel, R. The role of alcohol in two Central American cultures. Psych 1940, 3, 361- 387.
  • 15. Ritchie, J. The Making of the Maori. Wellington, NZ: Reed, 1963.
  • 16. Maretzki, T., and Maretzki, H. Taira: An Okinawan Village. In: Whiting, B. (Ed.) Six Cultures. NY: Wiley, 1963.
  • 17. Westermeyer, J. Options regarding alcohol use among the Chippewa. Am J Orthopsych, 1972, 42, 398-403, p. 400.
  • 18. Poe, C. Angel to the Papagos. San Antonio, TX: Naylor,1964. Underhill, R. Singing for Power: The Song Magic of the Papago Indians. NY: Columbia U Press, 1939. Davis, E. The Papago Ceremony of Vikita. In: Hodge, F. (Ed.) Indian Notes and Mono,. Vol. 3, No. 4.  Heye Found, l920. Joseph, A., et al. The Desert People. Chicago: U Chicago Press, 1949.
  • 19. Irvy, R.  Ma’ohi drinking patterns in the Society Islands. J Poly Soc, 1966, 75, 304-320. Conrad, B. Tahiti. NY: Viking, 196. Rowe, N.  Voyage to the Amorous Islands. London: Deutsch, 1955.
  • 20. Gorer, G. Himalayan Village: An Account of the Lepchas of Sikkim. London: Joseph, 1938. Morris, J. Living with Lepchas. London: Heinemann, 1938.
  • 21. MacAndrew, C, and Edgerton, R. Drunken Comportment: A Social Explanation. Chicago: Aldine, 1969. Gives reasons alcohol abuse can be reduced.
  • 22. Marlatt, G., and Rosenow, D. The think-drink effect. Psych Today, 198l,15, 60-69, p. 93.
  • 23. Ibid.
  • 24. Ibid.
  • 25. Bushman, B., and Cooper, H. Effects of alcohol on human agression. Psych Bull, 1990, 107, 34I -354.
  • 26. Crowe, L., and George, W. Alcohol and human sexuality. Psych Bull, 1989, I05, 374-386.
Now you know that alcohol abuse can be reduced. See what changes you can bring about to make it a reality.