Stop Drinking Now...An Issue of Mixed Messages

By: Ed Philips

There are a large number of mixed messages that we receive in our society today. Everything from what we eat, even to what we should wear changes from day to day in what is considered right or wrong. So why is it when a message giving warning of something being harmful, unhealthy and even illegal is not only dismissed, but the opposite message is promoted? The message in question is that of drinking alcohol and the issues that it creates.

Alcohol has become almost mainstream in our society today. It has made its way out of the local bars and pubs and is now found in an assortment of locations. Once you factor in the number of restaurants, sporting events, festival, county fairs, night clubs, hotels, casinos, the list goes on, you come to realize how accessible alcohol has become. Then adding in the convenience stores, liquor stores, package shops, and grocery stores, the places you might go to every day stand a good shot at legally selling bottles, cans, cases and even kegs of alcoholic beverages to adults.

Is Drinking Alcohol Cool? Not only is alcohol extremely accessible in our society but there are also a number of factors that reinforce the idea that drinking alcohol is "cool." For instance, consider beer advertisements and commercials on TV. Indeed, it can be argued that some of the most memorable, funniest, and "best" commercials and advertisements on TV have been those that were associated with drinking beer. To push the point further, why would beer manufacturers spend millions of dollars for a commercial during the Super Bowl if this expenditure did not lead to more sales? From a slightly different perspective, consider professional athletes and movie stars who, by their actions and advertisements, reinforce the idea that drinking alcohol is "cool."

It becomes even more evident that alcohol has become a deep rooted aspect of our society looking at some of what we consider to be just a part of life. From religious rituals incorporating alcohol, cultural traditions encouraging the drinking of alcohol, special events and holidays that are associated with drinking alcohol, down to the use of alcohol in our food to enhance flavor, our lifestyle has slowly accepted the presence of alcohol as normal. These practices help to desensitize us to the negative side of alcohol use and instead send the message that drinking alcohol can help us to fit in to our society.

If we are tolerant of alcohol by allowing its prevalence, acceptability, and accessibility, What is the flip side of the message? By the opposite viewpoint, alcohol is dangerous, unhealthy and illegal if consumed at or slightly above moderate levels. Take into consideration the numerous negative and harmful messages and statistics associated with alcohol abuse and drinking while driving that we have heard from the medical community, federal government, police, politicians, organizations such as MADD, and school and college administrators. It would make anyone ask why our society would be so accepting of the potential outcomes alcohol can bring.

If we continue to send out these mixed messages about alcohol, we will battle as a result the probability that many people, especially our youth will have a much more difficult time to see the destructive, unhealthy, and sometimes fatal aspects of alcohol abuse in a realistic light. By allowing alcohol to be such an interwoven thread in our society, we risk unraveling the difference between what is right and wrong.

Mixed messages have regrettably also been a part of our own judicial system in the way it has handled alcohol-related offenses. In the past, some repeat DUI offenders have continued to have their rights to the road receiving only a light sentence. Those committing crimes while under the influence, alcohol was seen as an explanation to their behavior.

Fortunately, some states are becoming more reality and accountability-based and are making it a felony when a person receives his or her 4th DUI within a ten-year period. In Minnesota, for instance, this sentence includes three years in prison and a fine of not less than $14,000.00.

Incarceration AND Treatment. Sending people to jail for alcohol-related offenses, however, is not a viable "solution" unless the person receives help for his or her alcohol problem while incarcerated. True, the offending person is "off the streets" while incarcerated. When the jail or prison sentence is completed, however, a person who has received alcoholism treatment while incarcerated is more likely to become a responsible person who doesn't continue to drink while driving and less likely to become a repeat offender.

I am not necessarily disagreeing with those who preach "responsible behavior" regarding drinking. The bottom line, however, is one's definition of "responsible behavior." Let me explain. Let's say that I have a lake that is used for swimming and that for whatever reason, hundreds of snapping turtles have populated this lake. Some people may say that "responsible behavior" in this example consists of warning all swimmers about the turtles and telling them to "be careful" while swimming. Others with a different point of view, however, might say that "responsible behavior" in this instance means warning the swimmers about the turtles, telling them to be careful while swimming, AND, at the same time, significantly reducing the turtle population so that there is less chance that the swimmers will get bit.

If our society is more enlightened and more aware of the health hazards, fatalities, and destructive consequences of alcohol abuse and alcoholism, then why don't we practice "responsible behavior" and make alcohol less available, less advertised, less glamorized, and less "cool" while at the same time increasing the advertisements, commercials, and public service messages that emphasize healthy and safe alcohol-free activities and lifestyles?

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