Alcohol and Mixed Messages about Drinking

Mixed messages about drinking should be avoided. Alcohol abuse prevention agencies and groups warn us against sending mixed messages about drinking. They fear that such messages will confuse people and dilute educational efforts.

But what is a mixed message and how can we recognize one?


Do any of these statements send a mixed message? If so, which is (or are) the offending one(s)

1. Alcohol helps many people relax or be more sociable at parties.

Yes  No

2. There is nothing wrong with social drinking as long as one stays within moderation and does not drive after drinking.

Yes  No

3. It’s fine to relax with a beer at the end of a hard day. But know your limit.

Yes  No

4. Many people use alcohol in social settings to relax and to celebrate special occasions.

Yes  No

5. If you want to teach your children to be responsible with alcohol, be a responsible drinker yourself.

Yes  No

6. Part of growing up is learning how to make wise decisions. If you choose to drink, drink responsibly. Don’t overdo it. And don’t drink and drive.

Yes  No

7. Any substance, in and of itself, is neither good nor bad. It is only the improper use, misuse, or abuse of substances that is bad.

Yes  No

Mixed Messages about Drinking


All of these are identified by the US government’s Center for Substance Abuse Prevention as sending mixed messages about drinking and alcohol.It cautions us not to use such mixed messages.

But are any of these statements incorrect? No. Do any of them mislead? No.

They are offensive only because they don’t support the abstinence ideology that the government promotes.

All of these supposedly dangerous statements are typical of societies in which drinking is common. But alcohol abuse is uncommon.

Far from being dangerous, they are protective of alcohol abuse. So we should promote rather than discredit them. In fact, suppressing them promotes alcohol abuse!


The concern over mixed messages isn’t new. Temperance advocates thought that alcohol was a dangerous poison that should never be consumed.

But doctors routinely prescribed alcohol for its health and therapeutic benefits at the time. So temperance leaders insisted that textbooks never ever mention that fact. That’s because it would send a “mixed message.” So ideology prevailed over truth and balance. Just as it does now.


mixed messages about drinkingConcern over preventing mixed messages rather than in promoting the truth? This reveals a desire to indoctrinate rather than to educate. It reveals a distrust in the intelligence of people and in their ability to think and reason. It reveals a desire to suppress facts and hide knowledge.

And it’s inconsistent with helping people make well-informed decisions based on the best available evidence. It may be useful in a dictatorship, but not in a free society.

After repeatedly deceiving students, they no longer trust us. Nor believe what we tell them about alcohol. And, of course, our credibility and effectiveness evaporates. Prohibiting “mixed messages” is counter productive in the long run.

We need to have the honesty and integrity to present the whole truth. We shouldn’t suppress facts in the misguided belief that it benefits people.


1. Cent Sub Abuse Preven (CSAP). You Can Avoid Common Errors as You Develop Prevention Materials. Wash: Nat Clearinghouse Alco Drug Info. They want us to avoid mixed messages about drinking and alcohol.