Friday, September 3, 2010

Underage Drinking...is not the problem

Here's a blog post from New Zealand that repeats what I've been saying, and what other (smart) Kiwis* have been saying: underage drinking is not the problem.The problem is how we, as a society, choose to drink, and that's something you and I have to face: not those Bud drinkers, or those drunks, or those frat boys: it's all of us. Not least because if we don't face it, and frame the problem and solution in a way that we find right, the New Drys are going to do it to us -- I mean, for us.

This is a serious problem. Look, MADD is right about one thing: drunk driving kills people, and it's preventable. Drunkenness and alcohol abuse are terrible problems, and if you can't acknowledge that, you've got your head in the sand up to your navel. Addressing parts of it -- underage drinking seems to be catching a lot of the hysteria, but there's energy booze drinks, there's cheap booze, there's high-ABV beer and wine: take your pick -- fails miserably because the demand for alcohol is hydraulic: push it down in one category, and it will simply pop us in another.

What we need to do...is have a serious national discussion about why so many Americans drink solely to get drunk; not lightly buzzed, or socially lubricated, or blissed, but loose-limbed nasty drunk. We need to talk about why we do it, about how dangerous that is in the short and long term, and about how we can stop. We need to change the drinking culture in this country...and no one has a clue on how to do that without Prohibition-type thinking.



*Here's something I posted on my old website five years ago, when the hand-wringers were first trying to jack up the drinking age: "I give you the comments of a police area commander in New Zealand, Pat Handcock, who says that "raising the age will not curb underage drinking...and that 'our generation' has to take responsibility for setting the drinking culture of today's young people. 'What we have to do is actually encourage a community culture that really lives the slogan that we've got to be careful with alcohol, because it can cause a lot of problems,' Inspector Handcock says. 'I don't think our generation and generations before mine have actually educated our children very well in terms of personal safety and alcohol. We've set the culture that binge-drinking is okay.'" Bingo.

11 comments:

Paul Ruschmann said...

A very timely comment, made at a time when millions of American students are returning to college and thousands of them will get arrested and ticketed in the weeks to come as the authorities try once again to "get tough" with underage drinking.

Under-21 prohibition didn't work with the parents of today's students, and was only marginally more effective with their grandparents. We're consigning yet another generation to hypocritical and ineffective law enforcement.

JohnM. said...

Couldn't agree more, but I'll be damned if I know what the solution is. The current culture seems to be so engrained, it's hard for me to imagine any change in the current legal landscape (generally prohibiting alcohol consumption for anyone under age 21, and harshly punishing those who run afoul of the law).

From what I can tell, the "powers that be" apparently see no connection between "under age 21 prohibition" and binge drinking among younger people (especially at the college level). As long as that remains the case, I just can't see any push to change the current laws.

The Oriole Way said...

I agree this is a conversation worth having, but it's a very difficult thing to effect societal change. Look how long its taken to stigmatize drunk driving. It wasn't until the 1970s that laws started to get tough, and even today many people don't fully appreciate how truly dangerous such behavior really is. Certain subsets--I'm talking the rich and famous and Major League Baseball--have more than enough financial resources to take a taxi home at night, and yet the gossip and sports pages are filled with arrests for driving under the influence. So please, continue to beat the drum about responsible drinking--my parents started with me during my teenage years, but it didn't really sink in until my mid-20s--but try not to get frustrated when you don't see any results.

Anda said...

Very true - we treat alcohol as an enemy here, and forbid legal adults to even drink it for several years. Prohibition famously failed, yet it seems to be the only way we can find to deal with alcohol related problems. Unfortunately, I think a lot of responsible drinking education comes at home. And, when most people drink just to get drunk, their kids are only going to learn the same behaviors.

Stephen Beaumont said...

Let us not forget how the booze industry is complicit in this. I'm not for censoring product development or banning certain products from store shelves, but in reading recently about the 12% alcohol, 23.5 ounce, watermelon-flavoured Four and the alcoholic energy drink Joose, I thought, "Now some two-faced liquor rep is going to come out and harp on how these products are intended for mature adults." They're not! The obvious intent of these brands is to provide a quick, cheap and easy drunk, which is anything but the message a responsible purveyor of beverage alcohol should be sending.

Jay Zeis said...

I believe in Responsible Drinking. I do not approve of underage drinking, and can see how certain drinks are targeted for that audience. I feel education and maturity combined would do the greatest good. Raising the drinking age just allows more people to be underage drinkers. (Really, if you want to decrease the number of "underage drinkers" just lower the age limit.)

Lew Bryson said...

Bingo, Jay. We could cut underage drinking by over 50% by just dropping the LDA to 18. In three years, people would adjust...given support.

Lew Bryson said...

Stephen,
True. That's what a lot -- most -- drinkers want: easy, cheap buzz. How to deal with that is the issue that everyone is ducking, from the booze industry to the anti-booze industry.

johndshepherd said...

Hmmm... In my view, Lew's point is not served by talking about stigmatizing drunk driving or binge drinking or high ABV beers or anything else. What is needed is discussions with children - not teenagers, kids of single digit ages - about why Daddy and Mommy drink and why they don't enjoy overindulging. That, coupled with (GASP) occasionally allowing young people a taste of a drink or a single small glass of wine with dinner, would go a long way towards demystifying drinking.

Anonymous said...

Your distinction between [underage] drinking and drunkenness is important. Research about the developing brain makes it clear that drunkenness through the teenage years causes irreversible damage to the brain. I'm not convinced that this extends to casual drinking. How important is it that we, as parents and role models, introduce our children to responsible social drinking?

Further confusing the problem is that some underage kids find drugs easier to obtain than alcohol, and some kids have genetic predispositions toward alcoholism or chemical dependencies.

My last observation is that the US is hardly the worst offender in underage drunkenness. No reason for us to ignore it, just part of the perspective.

Al Luccioni said...

well one thing is for sure, walking to and from a bar always trumps driving so A: promote local mixed use pedestrian friendly development B: try to live next to or above a bar