THINKING ABOUT DRUGS AND ALCOHOL

    My subject this month and my take on it will certainly anger some. Thatís not my intent. Rather I would like to begin a discussion of the subject of drug and alcohol use among the young in a different way, one that at least has the potential to be productive. Iíd like to discuss the subject in a context other than the so-called war on drugs which as near as Iím able to discern has spent billions of dollars and accomplished little or nothing except create the lucrative profession of drug expert. Iím prompted to raise the issue because of my presence at a recent meeting of the Board of Education where a report was presented on a survey of the high school student body and their drug and alcohol usage. Nothing in the report was in any way startling to a high school teacher. In essence what the student survey showed was that alcohol use ( mostly beer) is common as is marijuana consumption although less so.

    What was more interesting than the report itself was the reaction of the audience, small though it was. To them and the person giving the report, a college professor of health education, the statistics were of great concern, calling for action. The goal of all the comments appeared to be that something needed to be done to stop this illegal drug and alcohol use, up to and including a greater police involvement in arresting those caught with these substances.

    Iíve been attending meetings like this for over thirty years. The same solutions have been proposed at all of them. If parents just talk to their children more, they wonít use drugs and alcohol. If teachers just point out the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse, students will shy away from these substances. Get the police more involved. Have undercover police in the schools. Education has reduced the use of tobacco. It can do the same thing for alcohol. Iíve heard it all, and kids still drink alcohol and use other substances to "get a buzz" or alter their state of consciousness.

    I think some honest questions need to be asked. Havenít we humans been using alcohol and other intoxicating substances for thousands of years? Do not pious Jews begin a meal with a prayer for bread or the "fruits of the earth" and a separate blessing for wine. Is there not an echo of this in the holy communion of Christianity, where through prayer bread and wine are transubstantiated and one partakes of the body and blood of God? Can we or our children watch a sports event on TV or in person and not be cajoled by advertising to make a connection between the pleasure and excitement of sports and the consumption of beer? Can we go to any upscale restaurant these days without being offered an assortment of the latest martinis?

    How does one seriously tell young people not to drink in a culture where drinking is not only acceptable but glorified? How do parents who themselves smoked marijuana, and who may perhaps still smoke it out of the sight of their children, tell young people not to smoke? How do we tell seventeen year old Joey not to drink when daddy, now in his forties, is drinking two glasses of red wine religiously each day to ward of heart disease and prostate cancer?

    Maybe, just maybe, we need a different approach. Maybe the issue is not the use of alcohol and soft drugs like marijuana. Perhaps the issue is intoxication. One of the smartest people I ever knew was my father. He never spoke to us about drugs and alcohol, not directly anyway. He did talk to us about the enjoyment of beer and various spirits. He would even let his boys taste whatever he was drinking when they were young. He even taught us how they were made and what foods were especially good to consume with each of them. As we got older, we consumed larger and larger amounts with him on occasions, always with food and always in gatherings with others. I submit that he taught us how to drink so that neither my brother nor I succumbed to the peer pressures to take part in the drinking orgies that were just as common in my day as they are today. We both drank and enjoyed it, but we were both trained, I now understand, to avoid drunkenness. We never saw our father intoxicated. We always heard his scornful comments about people who got sloppy drunk at the parties we attended.

    Iíve used what he taught me in my work with young people. When they asked me if I drank, I always told them I did. I would discuss with them the drinks I like and how my tastes have changed over the years. I also passed on my fatherís scornful comments about drunks, never permitting an obviously intoxicated student to remain in my class, booting him/her out while at the same time making the point with the others that we were in school for serious business that could not be accomplished while intoxicated. I strongly suspect that I stimulated more good thinking about the use and abuse of intoxicants in this way than the naive approach that seeks to stamp drug and alcohol use out.

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