This page will show that alcohol abuse can be reduced.
I. Keys to Success or Failure
II. Alcohol Abuse Can Be Prevented
The substance of beverage alcohol (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 drinking it.
In many groups and societies, most people drink. They drink daily. Yet they have few alcohol problems. Such groups familiar to most people include Jews, Italians, Greeks, Spaniards, and Portuguese.
I. Keys to Success or Failure
There are three major keys to the success of such groups.1
- First, alcohol is viewed as a neutral. It’s neither a poison nor as a magic elixir. What’s important is how it’s used.
- Second, such groups provide two options. Both are equally good. One is not to drink. The other is to drink in moderation. Totally bad is the drink abusively. That’s by anyone, anytime, for any reason.
- Third, people learn to drink alcohol sensibly. And they do so from an early age in the home. They learn such drinking from their parents. They learn to drink in their parents’ house instead of the frat house.
It is clear that alcohol policies and education will fail to if they do any of these.
- Fail to distinguish the use from the abuse of alcohol.
- Stigmatize alcohol as a poison.
- Stigmatize those who drink in moderation.
- Accept intoxication as an excuse for bad behavior.
- Prevent young people from learning how to drink in moderation.
II. Alcohol Abuse Can Be Reduced
The single most effective way that parents can prevent alcohol abuse among their children is to be good role models. They do so by drinking sensibly. What parents do is much more important than what they say. It’s 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
Many people believe a dangerous myth. It’s that a beer has less pure alcohol than a shot of whiskey or other distilled spirits (liquor). And also that a glass of dinner wine has less alcohol than the shot of spirits.
But a standard drink of beer, wine, and spirits all have the same amount of pure alcohol. It’s six-tenths ounce. This is alcohol equivalence.
A standard drink is any go there.
- 12-ounce can or bottle of regular beer
- 5-ounce glass of dinner wine
- One shot (one and one-half ounces) spirits.
Policies should not focus on alcohol itself. 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
But in some societies people do not believe that intoxication disinhibits. In those societies it doesn’t lead to disinhibition. Examples include these
- Yuruna of South America. 5
- People of Vicos in the Peru.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. But they never ever become disinhibited.
Targets of Aggression
The 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 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.
Among the Maori of New Zealand, drinking occurs at drinking sessions or at drinking parties. The amount of alcohol consumed is comparable at both. 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. Behavior is usually egocentric and self-enhancing.15
Among the Taira of Okinawa there is no aggression when men and women drink together. But it’s different when men drink with men. Quarreling and even brawling sometimes occurs.
When the Tecospans of Mexico drink among themselves, violence never occurs. But when they drink with others, it’s another story. Disputes, conﬂict and ﬁghting are common. 16
White drinking behavior typically occurs when drinking in white bars. Indian drinking typically occurs in Indian bars. A white anthropologist reported the following. “Chippewa friends, 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? 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. That’s because it often changes over time.
An example is 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.
But beginning in 1933, many men entered conservation work camps. Then they had military service in World War II. These events brought them into close contact with whites.
Of course, this also taught them that alcohol disinhibits. 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. They originally drank heavily and became violent. That’s after sailors introduced them to alcohol. Now they drink heavily but are not violent when drunk.
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 seeing a 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. Yet they rigidly prohibit incest. They punish it by death. Lepchas include within the incest taboo 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. But 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 from the early European settlers of North America. It was common for Native Americans to see that settlers used alcohol as an excuse for bad behavior.
But when Native Americans went beyond the limits permitted by settlers, they often suffered greatly. Afterward, the natives would behave in an apparently disinhibited manner when intoxicated. Yet they rarely went beyond the acceptable limits. They had learned that to do so was to invite disaster. 21
Psychological studies shed more light on the “think drink” effect. That is, what we think about what we drink influences what we experience. 22
Researchers 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. But what happens when such subjects are given alcohol which they falsely believe is not alcohol? They continue to experience distress. 23
This may explain anecdotal reports of alcoholic priests who are no longer drinkers. Yet 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 drinking 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
Women report feeling more aroused from viewing erotica when they falsely believe that they have been drinking alcohol. Yet 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.
Societies have the type of intoxicated behavior that they expect and that they permit. So alcohol abuse can be prevented.
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.
Alcohol Abuse Can Be Prevented
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2. ______. Alcohol Education.
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8. Reichel, G., and Reichel, A . The People of Aritama.
9. Bates, M. Coral Island.
10. Norbeck, E. Takashima.
11. Romney, K, and Romney, R. The Mixtecans. In: Whiting, B. (Ed.) Six Cultures.
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19. Irvy, R. Ma’ohi drinking patterns. J Poly Soc, 75, 304-320.
20. Morris, J. Living with Lepchas.
21. MacAndrew, C, and Edgerton, R. Drunken Comportment. Gives reasons alcohol abuse can be reduced.
22. Marlatt, G., and Rosenow, D. The think-drink effect. Psych Today, 15, 60-69, p. 93.
25. Bushman, B., and Cooper, H. Effects of alcohol on human agression. Psych Bull, 107, 34I -354.
26. Crowe, L., and George, W. Alcohol and human sexuality. Psych Bull, I05, 374-386.