Most people search for things in life that are unchanging, or that tend to endure. It occurs to me that one of these things is booze, as well as attitudes toward it and knowledge about it.
Booze – alcohol – hasn’t changed much since it was accidentally discovered a million or so years ago. Humans have valued the drug alcohol for its capacity to relax a person and to let us escape from reality for an hour or so. We have continued to drink alcohol despite its equally strong capacity to harm us and to pave the way for us to harm others after we’ve drunk a little or a lot.
Americans’ attitudes toward alcohol and drinking have swung back and forth only a few times. The temperance (i.e., abstinence) movement of 150 or so years ago swept through our land, causing all sorts of taverns to close and all manner of new laws to be enacted. The Prohibition Amendment was tried for a few years early in the 20th century and was then junked. Certain religious groups have always frowned on drinking.
But mainstream America has remained firm in its basic stance on alcohol. We want easy access to alcohol, even if it kills us. And we don’t especially want to be educated about alcohol or warned about its dangers.
If you don’t believe that, just read your newspapers or watch TV. Each year, each decade, the stories stay much the same: “College student drinks too much and dies.” Several such incidents have recently occurred. A striking sidebar to one of these tragedies was this: The student who died had passed his college’s alcohol education course with flying colors. And when interviewed after his death, the victim’s classmates said they had no intention of changing their own drinking habits. A typical quote: “I know my own limitations. When I reach them, I’ll stop drinking.”
Society responds by raising the drinking age to 21, by enacting stiffer DUI laws for motorists, by offering alcoholism awareness courses and lectures. U.S. medical schools have stepped up their training in alcoholism. These measures surely do save lives. But not many, in my opinion. American viewpoints about booze (and guns, while we’re at it) are pretty well locked in.
Definitions do change. Fifty years ago, a “binge” was several days of steady drinking. Today, binge means five or six drinks within two hours. Unfortunately, tightening word meanings does not change human nature.
Where lies hope? Same as with most problems: with the individual. Me. You. If you drink, use your brain. Respect alcohol’s power. Don’t drink and drive. If booze makes you sick or greatly changes your personality, beware. After more than one drink, don’t propose marriage, sign a contract, or venture out on high-rise balconies. Be polite to cops. Good luck.