The New York Times published another anti-alcohol screed (“Teenage Wasteland,” June 2, 2006) this weekend. This one was written by some guy named David Pease, a Connecticut father-turned-control-freak inspired by the deaths of some of his children (is it possible that substance abuse runs in the family?).
According to A Vigil for Lost Promise’s sponsors page, Pease “is a self-appointed activist, mentoring proponent and prevention advocate focused on helping parents get a grip on the cloak of denial, and on helping teens break free from the bondage of underage drinking and substance abuse. He is the founder of the Amistad 53 Mentoring Program – currently being pilot tested in Stamford, Connecticut in partnership with Liberation Programs of Connecticut – and the Get a G.R.I.P. Foundation, working to inspire ‘Greater Responsibility In Parenthood’ by conducting workshops across the State.” Sadly, he “lost his oldest son Dave to a heroin overdose at age 23 in 1997, and his middle son Casey in 2001, on his 24th birthday, to a car accident where alcohol played a role.” You can read his testimony about his sons in his article “My Son Brian” published on the web site of The Partnership for a Drug-Free America.
Anyway, I’m of course not happy that Pease lost his sons to what clearly amounted to a vicious substance abuse problem. However, I don’t really think Pease can blame society for what happened to his children. Liberalization and culture really weren’t the direct problems in his case. The children had a problem. He confesses that he maybe didn’t handle it as well as he should have, which is actually pretty courageous, but at the end of the day one of his sons was playing with heroine, not exactly equivalent to smoking a joint or drinking a beer, and the other got plastered and attempted to drive home.
But back to the New York Times article. Pease laments, “If there ever was a time to focus on the problem of underage drinking here in Connecticut, it’s now, when teenagers are busy celebrating their final days of high school and the beginning of independence, in many cases by popping a cork or opening a bottle.” Well, gee. It’s kind of a long-accepted custom in western society to pop a cork of champaign to celebrate the passage into adulthood, which Pease carefully refers to as “independence” (because 18-year-olds who graduate from high school still aren’t adults?). Pease’s op-ed is full of the usually vague statistics about the “problem” of alcohol consumption:
- “Our teenagers are reporting a consumption of alcohol during the last 30 days that is 21 percent above the national average, yet a number of Connecticut parents and legislators resist putting more teeth into our local ordinances.”
But what does that mean? It could mean lots of these “kids” are consuming small quantities responsibly, or a few are consuming small to large quantities irresponsibly. That’s a meaningless statistic only made alarming by the fact that you have to be 21 to purchase alcohol. I find it rather hard to believe that parents who supervise their offspring drinking, which they shouldn’t have to do when their children are already 18 and legally adults, is a danger to Connecticut society. As a matter of fact, Connecticut should probably be thankful there are some responsible parents out there who take the time and effort to teach responsible drinking habits.
- “For too long, the country has focused on illicit drug abuse without giving alcohol abuse the attention it warrants. And yet according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s 2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, of the 22.5 million Americans over the age of 12 who are substance-dependent, 15.2 million, or 67.6 percent, abuse alcohol, while only 3.9 million, or 17 percent, are primarily drug abusers.”
I don’t know the methodology of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration off the top of my head, but I don’t think it’s fair to conflate those who have a drink once in a while, no matter what age they are, with “substance abusers,” which Pease appears to at least be implying. It’s obvious that people prone to substance abuse might abuse alcohol more often than other drugs because alcohol is indeed freely available. 22.5 million people is a pretty small fraction of the U.S. population, however. According to this moment’s estimate (1:53PM on Sunday the 4th of June, 2006) from the Census Bureau, the population of the U.S. is 298,898,582. That puts the the fraction of those over 12 who abuse substances at under 8%. It’s not nice to say that 8% of our population has substance abuse problems, but that hardly seems like an extreme number.
- “When one considers that more than 95 percent of those 15.2 million alcohol abusers started drinking before they were 21 years old, it would seem logical that underage drinking would not only be our main focus, but that it would also get the bulk of our prevention spending.”
I don’t know what it means to start drinking per se, but it appears that most people at least manage to have a drink before the age of 21, or even 18. Whether they choose to drink again, much less drink regularly, I don’t know the stat. Unless you’re an abstainer (maybe a wise, conscious choice for that percentage of the population that is prone to substance a buse) for health or moral or religious reasons, you probably have a drink now and again.
- “While restricting access is important, studies have shown that programs that reduce drug and alcohol abuse focus on educating parents and teaching children about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.”
How do you do that? Why, teach them to drink responsibly. Don’t binge drink, kids!
- “Recent studies of adolescents’ brain scans show that the consumption of alcohol by young adults can cause long-lasting damage, particularly in areas related to learning, memory and critical thinking.”
Quite typical for these types of screeds, not such study was even cited. It’s probably the case that binge drinking does affect cognitive development. But it seems pretty alarmist to say that having a drink, or even having one every night, will affect cognitive development. But again, this statistic is thrown around liberally, but never substantiated.
The reason why alarmist screeds like this come about is because the authors of such claims are knee-jerk moralists. They act this way about alcohol and drugs, but not activities that don’t carry a moral social stigma. For instance, according to NHTSA statistics in 2005, 43,200 died in car accidents. “Alcohol-related” deaths numbered 16,972. (It’s important to remember that “alcohol-related” is also a very vague, misleading term. A sober driver hitting a drunk pedestrian is “alcohol-related.)
Cars are apparently killing more people thank drivers who drink. Heck, Mr. Pease’s son died in an automobile-related accident. Why don’t we make it more difficult to drive? Better yet, let’s shoot for Automobile Prohibition!