We Have a Serious Drinking Problem

March 31, 2019

A couple days ago, baseball season officially began (Go Nats!), a time of eating peanuts and hot dogs, homeruns, and yelling “why did you swing at that?! that was up to your eyeballs!”. Oh, and lots and lots of alcohol.

A couple weeks ago was St. Patrick’s Day, a day for corned beef, green apparel, and tired Irish stereotypes. Oh, and lots and lots of alcohol.

A couple months ago was the Superbowl, a day of weird commercials, salty snacks, and cheering against the Patriots. Oh, and lots and lots of alcohol.

Walk into just about any restaurant that isn’t a fast food place and open the menu. What takes up at least half the menu? Lots and lots of alcohol.

This lots and lots of alcohol in these and other contexts is all normal and familiar to us. But, if I may ask a risky question… what if it weren’t?

I mean, it’s all so normal and familiar to us that it’s easy to forget that alcohol is dangerous!

So many dead each year from drunk driving or alcohol poisoning or doing stupid shit while drunk. So much violence and abuse is committed by those under the influence. So many get addicted.

And, yet, we treat alcohol consumption as expected of adults. It’s portrayed as “the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems!” What must you do when faced with overwhelming stress, according to pop culture? Drink a lot! Depressed? Drink! Annoyed? Drink! Celebrating? Drink! And if you’re in a place or situation where you can’t drink, well, that’s just the worst thing in the world and you cringe at the mere idea!

Well, unless you don’t drink, but why on earth wouldn’t you drink? Are you Muslim or Mormon? Are you pregnant? Are you some stuck up loser? That seems to be the attitude, since I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to an event where there was a wide selection of wine or some spiked punch, but I ask for something without alcohol, and I get some version of “LOL water is over there, loser”. Like, is the idea that someone might not want to put this stuff into their body so unthinkable?

We’re obsessed with alcohol, so much so that we don’t realize it and find the idea absurd. But maybe it’s time we acknowledged it. Maybe it’s time we acknowledged that maybe we could do just fine without it.

I’m not advocating prohibition. Prohibition was a disaster. Alcohol is just too ingrained in our culture. That and I don’t want to see any reduction in civil liberties. What I’m suggesting is that we as a society just stop acting like alcohol is so damn important.

And, all of that said, lower the drinking age!

Why? Because the fact that we even have such a high drinking age shows that we do acknowledge alcohol’s dangers but prefer to absolve ourselves of any responsibility by just not letting kids have it. As Leela said, “Alcohol is very bad. For children. But once you turn 21, it becomes very very good. Now scram!” Obviously, it’s not at all good for adults either, but maybe it’s more like once you turn 21 no one really pretends to care about the health effects anymore. Maybe even with underage drinkers, the health effects are just an excuse. I mean, if someone is offended by a teen drinking an alcoholic beverage, you think they’re offended because the teen is doing something unhealthy? Hell no. They are offended because the teen is doing something they haven’t grown old enough to earn yet. Drinking is an “adult” activity, enshrined as such in law by way of the minimum legal drinking age and reinforced through countless public service announcements and campaigns on the horrors of underage drinking, peppered with ableist concern-trolling about undeveloped brains by people whose knowledge of neurodevelopment comes from clickbait and car insurance ads. Teens mustn’t drink because it’s unhealthy for them, sure, but also, most importantly, because they have to stay in their place.

Although, this societal expectation of wanting to drink includes teens. Even teens are expected to drink just as adults are, only in their case it’s also illegal, part of that whole teens are criminals by virtue of existing thing.

So drop the drinking age to something like 14 and, hey, they’re no longer breaking any laws. They’re just behaving like much of the rest of the population.

But how would adults feel about this? As it is, adult alcohol culture tells them they shouldn’t just have a nice simple healthy glass of orange juice with brunch. No, they’re an adult! Better make it a mimosa. Orange juice is for kids, so you have to assert your maturity by adding champagne to the mix and several dollars to the price. Now you’re sophisticated!

With a lower drinking age, teens could have that sophisticated drink, too. But if they can have it, doesn’t that negate the sophistication? Now all you’ve got is overpriced bitter orange soda.

Might seem weird at first glance to be promoting both sobriety and a lower drinking age, but when you look into our unhealthy relationship with alcohol you see the high drinking age actually contributes to it. We sometimes say that the drinking age makes teens drink more than they otherwise might, and I’d say it has that same effect on adults, too. With the high drinking age, only those old enough (read: worthy) may have this beverage. If someone younger (read: unworthy) were to have it, what does it say about the older one’s worth?

And, as I talked about last year, this is a prime example of seeing a social problem, enforcing an age restriction on it, and declaring victory, rather than taking a good hard look at alcohol’s place in society.

If alcohol is so dangerous that it must be illegal for like a quarter of the population to buy or consume it, on top of the many injuries and deaths of all ages because of it, why is it so widely available and so heavily promoted in our society?

Beer promotions are all over sporting events, right alongside the inexplicable patriotic displays. This not only advertises the beer itself, but also reinforces the association between drinking beer and watching sports. It keeps alcohol consumption so normal that we don’t think about the risks involved. They just slap on a reminder to drink responsibly and don’t have to think about the fact they are the ones putting these dangerous products out to the public in the first place for people to possibly get addicted or die.

We’re so obsessed with alcohol that we don’t care how easily it can ruin your life or even straight up kill you. Just about any restaurant serves alcohol, and this is considering they have to get a license to do so and have to enforce the drinking age. You’d think more restaurant owners might just not bother with the hassle. But, no, they pretty much all still do. Because it pays off for them because so many people want alcohol.

I don’t want to spoil anyone’s fun or moralize about unhealthy choices (I have plenty of my own!). Hell, I’m not even saying to quit drinking as long as you’re doing so in moderation and responsibly (though that doesn’t mean much, everyone considers themselves responsible drinkers no matter the reality).

What I’m saying is to examine our relationship to alcohol, both individually and as a society. Do you drink because you want to or because you’re in a setting where it feels required? Would choosing not to drink make you feel unwelcome or rude in any way? Is there even anything else to drink? Are you hurting or stressed out, and alcohol has been so often presented as a form of self-medication that you don’t think twice about reaching for it? How do you really honestly feel after you’ve had a drink or two? Do you in fact feel good and stress free? Or are you still stressed out, only now you have a headache and nausea? While under the influence, have you said or done anything you wish you hadn’t or perhaps don’t even remember?

All that and more considered, is drinking worth it?

If you answer yes, fine. If you’re being honest with yourself, drink if that’s what you want to do.

But if you find you don’t actually enjoy drinking or are concerned about what you might do or have done when drunk, then, you know, not drinking is an option. No matter who you’re with or where you are or what occasion, it’s totally fine to not drink. If nothing else, think of the money you’d save and of not having to worry about being okay to drive. Or, you know, cirrhosis.

Maybe without the social pressure to drink, fewer people would be drinking at all. Fewer places might bother with providing alcohol at all, reducing any need for alcohol-related age discrimination or segregation. Public health would be so much better for it.

After all, when you’re feeling down or triumphant or whatever else, there’s always chocolate!