Roger Marolt: Roger This
November 11, 2011
“Drink responsibly.” It’s bunk.
What did you picture when you just read that alcohol industry slogan? I bet it’s something like a half-dozen friends in a bar having a good time while one of them is obviously not drinking and is thus the “designated driver.” He is getting plenty of attention from cool guys and beautiful girls and enough “attaboys” to make him feel critical to the evening’s success with the implicit understanding that next time it will be another of the friends’ turn. Or perhaps there’s a cab prominently involved with a group of really good-looking, fun-loving friends leaving the party. Either way the main theme is that nobody is drinking and driving.
It’s all good, right? Wrong.
It’s bunk because the theme has nothing to do with drinking responsibly, never mind that we have been convinced that it does. We, the American public, have been bombarded by this message from the producers of all drinks alcoholic to the point where we pretty much define responsible drinking by this notion of leaving the driving to someone else when we imbibe. And, that’s exactly their plan.
But, their “Drink Responsibly” message is really all about drinking safely, and there is a big difference between the two. Further, it’s not even about drinking safely for the long haul. It’s about making the consumption of alcohol safe only in the immediacy of a good night out.
Not convinced? OK. How about this for a more accurate picture of responsible drinking: A group of friends shows up at a bar or party. If there is any apparent car pooling going on it is because of the price of gas or for environmental reasons only. Everybody else has arrived in their own vehicle for convenience’s sake. Once at the festive event, everyone enjoys a drink or two over the course of the evening, stopping long enough before the event is over so that they will certainly be sober for the drive home. If a person or two happen to drink too much, the others make sure they call a cab for them or take them home themselves. Nobody gets a special reward for being sober, because that’s the norm rather than the exception. The next morning everyone feels good enough to enjoy a healthy, productive day.
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Yes, it’s ridiculous because this scene lends itself to dull depiction for a 30-second commercial. But, that’s not the reason you will never see it. The reason that truly responsible drinking will never be portrayed in order to sell liquor is that, well, it doesn’t sell liquor. Truly responsible drinking encourages people to limit their alcohol consumption. Well, I’ll be …
The thing that concerns me the least, though, is booze sellers’ bottom lines. What I wonder about is the message we are sending young people. It’s not a stretch of logic to believe that if we are falling for the safe drinking/responsible drinking switcheroo ourselves, we are probably passing the spin on to the young adults we are raising, too. Very unfortunately, it is not uncommon for parents to sponsor beer parties for their high school-age children because, since kids are going to drink anyway, they might as well do it safely in their home rather than out on the highways, right? Ditto the thought process with the rented party bus or limo. Both are the anticipation and tacit approval of overconsumption … in order to keep the kids safe?
The problem is that if drinking becomes safe, then the message too easily can sound like it is safe to drink. By focusing on only one consequence of drinking and then effectively eliminating it, we are probably teaching young adults to drink more. If a group of people chooses a designated driver at the beginning of the evening, that is to begin the evening with the expectation of everyone else getting too drunk to drive. This is a setup for binge drinking. It is substance abuse and the point where short-term safety begins to cross the double yellow line for a head-on collision with serious long-term health issues and the misery of addiction.
Drinking and driving is a horrifically stupid and dangerous thing to do, and we must do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening. But, should it be the sole or even the most important issue about drinking that we bring up with our children? The alcoholic beverage industry hopes so. That industry-guided focus might lead us to inadvertently encourage our kids to drink more and divert our attention from the long-term effects of alcohol abuse that destroy lives just as effectively and far more often. For me that’s a bitter pilsner to swallow.