Marolt: The myth of safe drinking for our kids
Nobody in the alcohol industry wants anyone to get behind the wheel of a car after drinking and kill themselves or anyone else. They also want to sell more booze. What’s a peddler of vices to do?
I think the first thing is to become solely focused on the immediate potentially devastating consequences of overindulging. The main reason is not for finding a solution to avoid the foreseeable threat of drunken driving fatalities; it is more to ignore the just as real and nearly as prevalent long-term, slow, agonizing problems caused by alcohol abuse. After all, we are focused on the bottom line here. Customers who end up dead at too young an age are not good customers. Those are just the cold, hard, buried facts.
The solution used to accomplish the simultaneous goal of easing the conscience and padding the bottom line has been the “Drink Responsibly” campaign launched by the alcohol industry in about 1991. Automobile deaths with alcohol involved have dropped steadily while sales of booze have been on the rise.
The alcohol industry tells us to “drink responsibly,” but what they really want us to do is “drink safely.” “Drink responsibly” means things like: Don’t drink so much that you can’t get up for work the next day or waste half your Sunday morning nursing a hangover. Don’t drink so much that it damages relationships. Don’t allow alcohol to affect your physical health. Don’t let it impact your mental or emotional wellbeing. Don’t let excessive drinking wreak financial havoc in your life. Don’t drink so much that your liver stops functioning.
Compare this with “drink safely.” What this means is to drink as much as you dare, just don’t get behind the wheel of an automobile after you do. No matter what they label it, this latter message is the one that comes across from the people who sell booze.
I want to bring this issue down to a local level: There is a reason why kids in the Aspen School District are using alcohol and pot at rates that exceed national averages. We are doing something wrong in our community. I don’t know what that is, but we need to figure it out. This one is on us!
I do believe we have used the terms “drink responsibly” and “drink safely” interchangeably, and this has been a mistake. Drinking responsibly is all about drinking less, while drinking safely is about teaching our children to drink more without getting killed in a car crash.
That said, it is nearly impossible to argue against educating and instructing kids to use a designated driver, if their intention is to go out drinking. Statistics show it saves lives. While talking about the designated driver acknowledges that kids will be drinking, which can be construed by a teenage mind into parental approval, we have to keep providing kids with this option, albeit I would advocate with more discussion about the legitimate and empowering option of declining imbibing until at least reaching the legal age. It might slow things down, anyway.
What I know needs to be abolished is the practice of adults providing alcohol to minors and/or permitting the consumption of it by them in their homes. This is promoting safe drinking at its worst. It is role models giving the green light to substance abuse. I don’t care what any of the adult advocates of this practice say; very few adults can supervise a group of teenagers while they party under the influence of drugs and alcohol in their homes and, if they can, there won’t be many teenagers who will go there.
Two years ago a local tragedy began when a group of teenagers swerved off a back road leaving one of them nearly dead and now facing the prospect of spending the rest of her life in a wheelchair. There have been lawsuits filed alleging that adults allowed alcohol to be consumed in their home immediately before the accident.
I do not know the particulars or even any but the most general facts of this incident. What I do know is that a handful of people will continue to suffer for their lifetimes over this. Close friends feel their pain intensely. Our community will ache dully every time someone thinks about it in passing for decades to come.
The illusion appears to be that there is even such a thing as safe drinking. And, that leaves the teaching of it a myth.
Roger Marolt thinks if teenagers are showing up at your house to drink, you’re not policing it. firstname.lastname@example.org
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