Saturday, 24 September 2011

Respect for Alcohol Begins at Home, at School, in Our Philosophy, Horatio.

Tenured Radical has a post up today about "Twelve Steps that institutions could take to reverse student alcoholism", which is interesting, but I think misses a few things.

First, there's the mention of a couple of terms that I'd like to contest:
I remember a young friend telling me about a category at a women’s school they called “LUGs,” which meant “Lesbian Until Graduation.” We might add to that category “AWACs,” translating to “Alcoholic While At College.” Although only a few of these students will go on to be genuine, professional alcoholics, this period of alcoholism still has a dramatic impact on their ability to learn, remain organized, be healthy and mature as intellectuals and workers.

I think that "AWAC", just like "LUG", is a very problematic term, and the very fact of its coining bothers me. Alcoholism should not be equated with irresponsible drinking. The two are very different things. To suggest that "when they realize that holding down a job and being a drunk is a skill few can master" an alcoholic will recover is, I would think, offensive to the people who actually struggle with alcoholism. While alcohol abuse is a hallmark of alcoholism, not all alcohol abuse is alcoholism. I would go so far as to say that if the realization that being drunk affects your livelihood is enough to stop you drinking, you're probably *not* an alcoholic, and never were.

This isn't to say that I don't think some of the things TR is suggesting are good ideas. I think asking responsible drinkers to counsel irresponsible ones is a great idea. But I think we need to not only look at it as a campus problem, but as a fundamental flaw with the way the United States deals with intoxicants.

First: the age of majority. It's patently absurd to suggest that a person is mature enough to vote, be in pornography, and own a gun years before they can consume alcohol. It's patently absurd to ask anyone caught within that space of time to respect that space. They don't, and they won't. "Under-age" drinking will continue until some logic is applied to the age of majority in this country. It gives drinking a social cache that makes drunkenness a sign of adulthood.

Second: making drinking illicit drives it underground and prevents any kind of education about responsible approaches; as well as education about catching alcoholism-like behaviour early. As far as I'm concerned, telling young adults that drinking is bad and banning it until the age of 21 is about as logical as abstinence-only education -- and about as effective, too.

So yes, do those twelve things on campus. Do your best to reduce problematic drinking. But don't call it alcoholism, and don't really expect it to change until you stop making it sexy by outlawing it.

1 comment:

R.O. P. López said...

Interesting points. I bounced here from the Chronicle. I agree that banning alcohol until the age of 21 doesn't make much sense.