The temperance approach to alcohol has a long tradition.
People who pushed for Prohibition (1920-1933) lived in a different era. There was little scientific knowledge about drinking alcohol. They had some strange ideas.
Consider these assertions:
- Alcohol is the dirtiest drug we have. It permeates and damages all tissue. No other drug can cause the same degree of harm that it does.
- Ethanol (alcohol) is harmful to the body.
- Alcohol is a poison, and drinking it might lead to death.
- Alcohol is toxic (no level of consumption indicated).
- The effects of alcohol on men (no level of consumption indicated) are that hormone levels change, causing lower sex drive and enlarged breasts.
- Alcohol is a gateway drug leading people into illicit drug use.
- Alcohol (no level of consumption indicated) can cause deterioration of the heart muscle.
Surprise! These statements were made by government officials of today. They are not based on scientific evidence. Instead, they seem to reflect a neo-prohibitionist effort to stigmatize alcohol.
The effort to stigmatize alcohol teaches that there is no difference between moderate drinking and alcohol abuse. The two are portrayed as one and the same. This leads the U.S. Department of Education to direct schools to reject curricula promoting responsible drinking among adults. They’re forced to promote a simplistic call for total abstinence.
It teaches that alcohol is a dangerous gateway drug. Alcohol seduces drinkers to begin using illegal drugs. The “proof” is that most illicit drug users drank alcohol first. Of course, most illicit drug users also drank milk, ate candy bars, and drank cola first.
Drinking Equated with Illegal Drugs
Some agencies also equate legal alcohol consumption with illegal drug use. For example, federal guidelines direct agencies to substitute “alcohol and drug use” with “alcohol and other drug use.” To replace “substance abuse” with “alcohol and other drug abuse.” And to avoid the term “responsible drinking.”
Alcohol is also frequently associated with crack cocaine and other illegal drugs by discussing them together. Often the effort is more blatant. A poster picturing a wine cooler warns “Don’t be fooled. This is a drug.”
Technically, this assertion is correct. Any substance that alters the functioning of the body is a drug. Salt, vitamins, and water are all drugs. But the word “drug” has negative connotations. The attempt is to stigmatize alcoholic beverages.
Stigmatizing alcohol as a “drug” inadvertently trivializes the use of illegal drugs. This does nothing to discourage their use. Especially among youngsters, it creates the false impression that parents who drink in moderation are drug abusers. This misguided effort to equate alcohol with illicit drugs is likely to be counterproductive. It’s a temperance approach to alcohol that’s neo-prohibitionist.
Use vs Misuse
We need to recognize that it is not alcohol itself but rather the misuse of alcohol that is the problem. Most American adults drink in moderation. It enhances the quality of their lives with no ill effects. When consumed in moderation, it is associated with better health and longer life.
Stigmatizing alcohol is actually dangerously counterproductive.
Poster: Don’t be fooled. (Poster) Albany: New York State Division of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, n.d.