Dr. Stanton Peele and Archie Brodsky explain how we can reduce alcohol abuse. Peele is a psychologist who has received many awards. They’re for his ground-breaking work in alcohol studies. Brodsky is a faculty member in the Harvard University Medical School.
Socializing the Young
We can prepare young people to live in a nation where most people drink. We do this best by teaching them the difference between responsible and drinking too much. The most reliable mechanism for doing this are the parents.
Indeed, the single most crucial source of good alcohol education is the family. One that puts drinking in perspective. It uses it to enhance social gatherings. Picture the difference between drinking with your family and drinking with “the boys.”
Alcohol does not drive the parents’ behavior. It doesn’t keep them from being productive. And it doesn’t make them aggressive. Children learn that alcohol need not disrupt their lives. Nor serve as an excuse for bad actions.
Ideally, this positive modeling at home would be reinforced by sensible drinking messages in school. But alcohol education in school is ruled by a prohibitionist mentality. One that cannot acknowledge positive drinking.
All alcohol use is seen as misuse. Take children from families in which alcohol is sensibly drunk. They are then bombarded by negative teachings about it. Children may parrot this message in school. But such negative alcohol education is drowned out later by reality.
A high school newsletter said people who begin drinking at 13 have an 80% chance of becoming alcoholic! It added that the average age at which children begin to drink is 12.
Does that mean that nearly half of today’s children will grow up to be alcoholic? Is it any wonder that students dismiss these warnings? It seems as though schools want to tell them as many negative things as possible about alcohol.
Research finds that anti-drug programs like DARE are not effective. It’s self-defeating to have the school program and family values in conflict.
Think of the confusion when a child returns from school to a moderate drinking home. The school considers a parent who is drinking a glass of wine a “drug abuser.”
Often the child is getting messages from AA members who lecture in schools. They tell about about the dangers of alcohol. So alcoholics are preaching the horrors of alcohol. This is morally wrong. And it’s counter productive for society.
Culture of Moderation?
There is an uneasy mix of drinking cultures in the US. In it we see the dual nature of a temperance culture. There is a large number of abstainers (30%). And small number alcoholics (5%). Problem drinkers are about 15%.
On the other hand, we have a large culture of moderation. The largest category (50%) of adults are moderate drinkers. Most people drink in a responsible way. For example, the typical wine drinker generally consumes two or fewer glasses on any given occasion. It’s usually at mealtime.
Temperance Movement Haunts Us
We are still driven by the demons of the Temperance movement today. So we are doing our best to destroy a positive drinking culture. We do so by ignoring or denying its existence.
Dr. Peele worries that “the attitudes that characterize both ethnic groups and individuals with the greatest drinking problems are being propagated as a national outlook.” He explains that “a range of cultural forces in our society has endangered the attitudes that underlie the norm and the practice of moderate drinking. The widespread propagation has contributed to alcohol abuse.”1
Dr. Selden Bacon was a founder and long-time director of what became the Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies. He graphically described the perverse negativism of alcohol “education” in the U.S.
Current knowledge about alcohol use can be likened to…knowledge about automobiles and their use if the latter were limited to facts and theories about accidents and crashes…. [What is missing are] the positive functions and positive attitudes about alcohol uses in our societies…. If educating youth about drinking starts from the assumed basis that such drinking is bad [and]…full of risk for life and property… and the subject matter is taught by nondrinkers and anti-drinkers, this is… indoctrination. Further, if 75-80% of the peers and elders are or are going to become drinkers, there [is]…an inconsistency between the message and the reality.2
What is the result of this negative indoctrination? During the past few decades per capita alcohol consumption in the U.S. has declined. Yet the number of problem drinkers continues to rise.
This contradicts the notion that reducing the overall drinking will result in fewer alcohol problems. But this idea is widely promoted in the public health field. Doing something meaningful about alcohol abuse requires a more profound intervention. It requires changes in culture and attitudes.
We Can Do Better
We can do better than we are. After all, we once did do better. In eighteenth-century America drinking took place more in a more communal context than it does now. Per capita consumption was 2-3 times current levels. But drinking problems were rare and loss of control was absent from descriptions of drunkenness. We can recover the balance and good sense our founders showed with alcohol.
It is long past time to tell people the truth about alcohol. We can reduce alcohol abuse. So let’s begin!
We can Reduce Alcohol Abuse
Readings by Dr. Peele
- 7 Tools to Beat Addiction.
- Love and Addiction
- The Truth About Addiction and Recovery.
- Diseasing of America
- The Meaning of Addiction
- How Much is Too Much?
Endnotes for We can Reduce Alcohol Abuse
1 Holder, H. Prevention of alcohol-related accidents in the community. Addict, 88, 1003-1012.
2 Bacon, S. Alcohol issues and social science. J Drug Iss, 14, 22-24.
- Adapted with editing by permission from Stanton Peele and Archie Brodsky.