Alcohol & Teenagers

 
Here’s to alcohol: the cause of, and answer to, all of life’s problems.
— Matt Groening

I think we, that’s New Zealand (or most western world countries for that matter) as a whole, are doing a pretty poor job when it comes to alcohol. I was able to reflect on this on an unexpected, and unwanted, trip to ED.

I spent a chapter of my first book looking at alcohol from the perspective of drinking as a parent but now my children are well into their teenage years, I’m being confronted with alcohol from their perspective. It is, if you’ll excuse the pun, a sobering experience. We, as a society, see alcohol as appropriate to celebrate, commiserate, chill out, party and in just about every adult social setting and so it isn’t surprising that teenagers are keen to crash the party.

One of the main reasons we are doing poorly is that we are in denial about the fact that alcohol is a drug with the same addictive properties of drugs. We don’t like to talk about this but the main ingredient is ethanol and it is addictive. I’m in huge admiration of Lotta Dann who very publicly via her blog and book (Mrs D is going without), allowed people to walk and stagger in her shoes. I’m sure she has helped many people because her stories sounded like any of us.

For all intents and purposes, alcohol should be in the same boat as tobacco though we treat it as though it’s an everyday grocery item, like soda water or meat. Alcohol and tobacco used to go very much hand in hand as anyone who visited a pub before smoking was banned will testify. In my younger days, as an aspiring cricketer, we were regularly sponsored by Lion Red and Benson & Hedges. There were ample supplies of the sponsors products thrown around the dressing room gratis and the sponsors got exactly what they wanted, young sporting role models smoking and drinking. 

The anti-smoking lobby has been incredibly, admirably successful and tobacco has been banished from sight and wrapped in hideous pictures and slogans. Alcohol, on the other hand, has its own aisle in every supermarket and still appears on TV. We all know of the dangers of smoking but alcohol’s impact on society makes equally tragic reading (check it out here) in the areas of health, driving, crime and violence.

This blog isn’t the start of a personal crusade against alcohol but part of me wonders why it isn’t. The logic I hold on to, which I’m sure is similar for many, is that alcohol in moderation is fine. And it is. But equally, smoking, gambling, oxycontin, junk food and recreational drugs are all fine in moderation and that leads us to the hard question - can you have a drug or vice that is, for the vast majority of people, social and not detrimental for society. The alcohol statistics appear to paint a different picture of the one we have in our collective societal wisdom.

The other key question to address is cui bono – who benefits?

When the anti-smoking lobby started their campaign they were pitched into almost armed confrontation with “Big Tobacco”. “Big Pharma” are currently defending their right to not only addict and kill people with powerful pain medication, but to export this to other countries. Peter Garrett came out on the losing end when he tried to stop the gambling industry fleecing Australians via poker machines.

Who wins? The suppliers of products because they don’t have to deal with the downstream costs.

These industries, and I think we need to include the alcohol industry, make healthy profits from people addicted to, and or abusing, their products. What would be the impact on the alcohol industry or the TAB if everyone only drank and gambled socially and in moderation? They would shrivel overnight and so no matter which way you look at it, they have a vested interest in people over indulging or becoming addicted.

It is into this environment that, as a parent, I watch my children grow and take their place. Our society provides clear messages about what is socially acceptable and what isn’t. Smoking, not so much these days but drinking, that gets the big tick. It shouldn’t have taken a trip to ED (all’s well now by the way and I have enough material for two chapters in my next book) to get me thinking about this, but sometimes you do need a kick up the backside to open your eyes!