We really can reduce alcohol problems. Here we describe how to do it.
- An Alternative
- Temperance Culture
- Keys to Success
- Keys to Failure
- What We Need to Do
- Beliefs are Essential.
Let’s imagine how we might prepare youth to drive.
- We would tell young people that driving is very dangerous. Tens of thousands of people die in traffic crashes each year. And many times that number are injured. This causes pain, suffering, and economic loss.
- We would tell them that safe driving requires following many rules of the road. Yet we wouldn’t teach them to young people. That would send mixed messages.
- We would explain that guided practice is very important. Of course, we wouldn’t provide that. Again, that would send mixed messages. We would explain that all young people lack emotional maturity. We would tell them not to worry. That they would acquire the necessary maturity on their 21st birthday.
- When they turn 21, we would give them a license and the keys to a car.We would tell them that they really should use public transportation. It’s much safer. But if they insist on driving, we’d tell them to try not to kill themselves or others.
Alternatively, we could try to prevent traffic crashes by prohibiting driving. Instead, we try to reduce the dangers of driving. That’s harm reduction.
So we don’t try to prevent driving. Instead, we have licensing, rules of the road, guided supervision, speed limits, safety belt laws, etc.
II. AN ALTERNATIVE
The imaginary process described above is exactly how we prepare young people to live in a drinking society. An alternative is to use a system that reduces harm from vehicles. That is, have a drinking learners’ permit. The exact nature of such permits would be decided by society. However, it would be limited to
- Adults aged 18-20.
- Be a high schoolgraduate.
- No alcohol violations.
The drinkers’ permit would be graduated as are driving permits. In this case it might be drinking with parents in their own house, drinking with parents in a restaurant, etc.
Possible objections to a drinking learners’ permit might be the following.
A. Alcohol and Young Brains.
The research on the effects of alcohol comes from two sources. One is from studies on rats that are fed massive amounts of alcohol. The other is on alcohol and drug abusers.
Lacking is research on light or moderate drinking by young people. However, Jews, Italians, and others generally serve their young people alcohol in moderation. There’s no evidence suggesting that such groups suffer any mental harm as a result.
B. Early Drinking Leads to Later Problems.
We often hear that early drinking causes drinking or other problems later in life. But this relationship is caused by pre-existing traits. They include such things as excitement-seeking, impulsivity, and inability to defer gratification. As a result, psychologists have been able to observe preschoolers and predict which will drink earlier. And also will have alcohol related problems later in life.
C. Vested Self-Interest.
Many people and entities have a self-interest in maintaining alcohol problems. They generally include these and others.
- Government agencies at all levels.
- Private alcohol agencies.
- Drug companies.
- Alcohol treatment facilities.
- Therapists and alcohol counselors.
- Alcohol educators.
- Neo-temperance groups.
For more, visit Anti-Alcohol Bias: Governments, Agencies, Researchers, etc.
III. TEMPERANCE CULTURE
The drinking learners’ permit is not likely to occur soon. That’s because the US is a temperance-oriented culture. We had National Prohibition. It lasted from early 1920 until late 1933. Even upon Repeal, almost four of every ten Americans still lived in states and counties with prohibition of their own.
Even today, about 18 million people (18,000,000) live in dry (prohibition) counties. Not surprisingly, about a third of the population 21 or older doesn’t drink. Also, more only drink on rare occasions.
IV. KEYS TO SUCCESS IN REDUCING ALCOHOL PROBLEMS
There are many groups in which nearly everyone drinks. But they have few drinking problems. Groups familiar to most people would be Jews, Greeks, Italians, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. There are three keys to successful drinking in all of these groups.
1. Beliefs about the Substance of Alcohol.
People view the substance of alcohol to be essentially neutral in itself. They don’t see it as a dangerous poison to be avoided. Nor they see it as a magic elixir. They view it in terms of how it’s used.
2. Beliefs about Drinking Itself.
These groups see drinking as natural and normal. There’s virtually no pressure either to drink or to abstain. However, there is absolutely no tolerance for the abuse of alcohol. That includes anyone of any age for any reason. Period.
3. Beliefs about Alcohol Education.
People believe that education about alcohol should begin nearly and in the home. It should be modeled by parents. Should a young person drink too much, it will be in the protective and supportive home environment. They believe it’s better to learn to drink in the parent’s house instead of a frat house.
V. KEYS TO FAILURE
A group or society that has great problems with alcohol is likely to be one in which these occur.
Fails to distinguish between the use and the abuse of alcohol.
For example, many articles state that alcohol causes great economic burdens on society. It reality, it’s alcohol abuse that causes such expense.
Light and moderate drinking can improve health, increase long life, provides relaxation, and increases sociability. So it improves life in many ways. It also provides employment for millions of people, profits for many, generates large tax revenues, and stimulates the economy.
One agency says that when parents want drugs, they send their kids for them. It shows a picture of a child getting beers from the fridge for his parents! Others compare alcohol retailers to street drug dealers. Or a solvent. Agencies and officials of today have made these assertions.
- The dirtiest drug we have is alcohol. It permeates and damages all tissue. No other drug can cause the same degree of harm that it does.
- Alcohol (no level stated) is harmful to the body.
- The effects of alcohol on men (no level stated) are that hormone levels change. This causes lower sex drive. And enlarged breasts in men.
- Alcohol is a poison.
- Alcohol (no level stated) is toxic.
- The substance of alcohol is a gateway drug. It leads people into illicit drug use.
- Alcohol (no level stated) can cause deterioration of the heart muscle.
Stigmatizes light and moderate drinkers.
Many groups and writers suggest that light or moderate drinking is a
- Symptom of weakness.
- Result of personal problems.
- Cause of crime.
- Threat to health.
- Sign of societal decline.
Exaggerates the dangers of drinking.
For example, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD)
- Presents a graphic with two empty glasses of alcohol. They’re encircled by the words rape, suicide, drowning, assault, and burns.
- Sells a graphic showing a beer bottle as a drug syringe. Thus, it equates alcohol with heroin.
- Has a TV ad saying “if you think there’s a difference” between heroin and alcohol, “you’re dead wrong.”
Uses scare tactics.
Most of the Keys to Failure above are scare tactics.
VI. WHAT WE NEED TO DO TO REDUCE ALCOHOL PROBLEMS
We need to teach youth about these essential things.
A. Teach Standard Drinks.
A standard drink is any of the following.
- 12-ounce can or bottle of regular beer.
- 5-ounce glass of dinner wine.
- Shot (1.5 ounce) of liquor or distilled spirits.
Each standard drink has six-tents of an ounce of pure alcohol. So two shots of whiskey is equal to two beers. They’re all the same to a breathalyzer.
B. Teach Bimodal Curve (Two-Part Curve).
People have a drink and it makes them feel good. So they naturally assume that two will make them feel even better. And so on with each additional drink. But that’s not true.
People tend to feel better as their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) increases. But as it reaches just over 0.05, the first part of the biphasic curve ends. Indeed, they tend feel better as it increases even more.
However, the second part of the biphasic curve begins as drinkers’ BAC level increases beyond 0.055. That’s when the negative effects of drinking increase. Problems increase and hangovers begin.
So it’s smart to stop drinking as BAC reaches as BAC approaches about 0.05. And people should know that BAC rises after drinking ends.
C. Teach Possible Consequences of Alcohol Violations.
For example, most young people should know the consequences of providing alcohol to a minor. Adults 18 or older (or minors in some states) who provide alcohol to a minor can be found guilty of various crimes. Charges in different states include contributing to the delinquency of a minor or corrupting the morals of a minor.
However, conviction for those or similar charges may prevent people from entering some careers. For example, teaching, law enforcement, or social work.
D. Teach Possible Dangers of Alcohol Abuse.
- Heavy episodic drinking (HED) is sometimes related to violence, accidents, or injuries. HED was sometimes falsely called bingeing. But a binge is when someone is intoxicated for at least two days. During that time the person neglects regular duties. For example, by not going to work.
- Driving while impaired. This leads to many preventable deaths and injuries.
- Riding with an impaired driver.
- Sexual problems. This includes sexual assault, unwanted pregnancy, or sexually transmitted diseases.
E. Teach Youth How to Decline a Drink Politely.
We can teach people to decline a drink politely.
- “No thanks.”
- “I’ll have a Coke.”
- “I’m on antibiotics.”
- “Drinking gives me migraines.”
- “I’m allergic.”
- “I make enough stupid decisions sober.”
- “Don’t have time to end up in the drunk tank tonight.”
- “It makes me to break out in handcuffs.”
- “I’ll be doing brain surgery in the morning.”
Of course, people can always “lose” drinks forced on them.
F. Teach How to Keep a Low BAC.
- Eating reduces alcohol absorption.
- Women are more effected by alcohol that men of the same height and weight.
- Drinking games are dangerous.
- Inexperienced drinkers are more effected by alcohol.
G. Teach Only Time Reduces BAC.
BAC drops .015 of BAC each hour. So a person with a BAC of .15 will have to wait ten hours. (0.15 divided by .015 = 10. Here are some other examples.
|BAC Level||Metabolism Time in Hours|
VII. PARENTING TO REDUCE ALCOHOL PROBLEMS
We, as parents, have much more impact on our children’s behavior than we realize. Even more than peers, according to research.
- Be good role models. We need to be living, day-to-day examples of good drinking behavior. We teach much more by deed rather than words. If we abuse alcohol, our children will likely do so when they begin to drink.
- Convey appropriate attitudes. We should never laugh at intoxication or inappropriate behavior.
- We need to remember that it is not alcohol but rather the abuse of alcohol that is the problem.
VIII. ALCOHOL EXPECTANCIES
Alcohol expectations. These are beliefs people have about the effects of drinking on their feelings and behaviors. For example, in some very isolated places, people don’t think alcohol disinhibits. So it doesn’t disinhibit them.
In our culture, intoxication gives an excuse. One man in a program for violent prevention had an insight. “When I first came to your program “I told you that I hit my wife because I was drunk. Now I realize that I drank so that I could hit her.”
Alcohol expectancies also influence the victims of aggression. In our culture, spouses and children are common targets. However, parents rarely are targets.
People also tend to follow situational alcohol expectancies. Some Native Americans distinguish between Indian drinking and White drinking. As a result, they’re able to switch between them as situations change.
In some societies, men drinking won’t fight if a woman is present. In our culture, we tend to expect different intoxicated behavior at a wedding reception than at a New Years Eve party.
People often have alcohol expectancies about specific alcoholic beverages. For example, many people think that tequila makes them aggressive. Others think that Champagne makes them romantic. Others are convinced that the sequence is important. For example, “beer before liquor, never been sicker; liquor before beer, you’re in the clear.”
We no longer accept intoxication as an excuse for traffic crashes. Groups tend to get the type of intoxicated behavior that then expect and that they permit. Alcohol expectancies can change, often quickly. So such behavior can be changed by changing alcohol expectancies.
IX. RESOURCES: REDUCE ALCOHOL PROBLEMS
A. Web Pages
- It’s Better to Teach Safe Use of Alcohol.
- Drinking with Parents is “Protective” of Alcohol Abuse.
- Parents Giving Alcoholic Drinks May Reduce Drinking-Related Problems.
- Children, Alcohol and Parenting
- Underage Drinking
- Drinking with Parents Reduces Alcohol Abuse among Teenagers.
- Teach Your Children Alcohol Moderation.
- Underage Drinking Problems: What Works.
- Reduce Underage Alcohol Abuse In Creative Ways.
- Underage Drinking Problem Prevention.
- Anderson, K. How to Change Your Drinking. A Harm Reduction Guide to Alcohol. NY: HAMS, 2010.
- Cheung, Y. et al. Harm Reduction A New Direction for Drug Policies and Programs. Toronto: U Toronto Press, 2016.
- Marlatt, G. et al. Harm Reduction. Pragmatic Strategies for Managing High-risk Behaviors. NY: Guilford, 2012.
- Peele, S. Addiction Proof Your Child. Potter, 2019.