The Sacred-Cow Drug

Mar 2, 2010 1203

Ritchie Way

Freedom means different things to different people. Some people want to be free to do what they like, regard less of the negative effect that their actions may have on society; others want to be free of the negative effects of the actions of those who chose to be free to do what they like. As one person put it rather succinctly: ‘Your freedom ends where my nose begins’. In other words, you are free to throw your fist around as long as it doesn’t connect with my nose.

The battle over alcohol has been a battle over freedom—freedom to drink alcohol when and where I choose, and the freedom to live in a country where there are no problems created or fuelled by alcohol. The world has see-sawed between these two freedoms. Because of the problems caused by the unconstrained use of alcohol, prohibition was introduced in 1855 and became firmly established by 1919. That gave people freedom from the negative personal and social effects of alcohol and the crime associated with it.

But just a generation later, people had forgotten about the problems caused by alcohol in the home and land and were beginning to feel that the government was treating them like children, by denying them the freedom to drink it. There was a very strong move, backed by the might of the alcohol industry, to repeal prohibition, and by 1933 the door was opened once more to the unconstrained consumption of alcohol.

Furthermore, people began to reason, ‘If it’s OK to send our eighteen-year-olds to war, why isn’t it OK to give them the right to drink alcohol in public?’And so the age at which people could purchase alcohol was reduced to eighteen. Now these eighteen-yearolds are buying the stuff for seventeen and sixteenyear-olds—youth whose powers of judgement are still in the developmental stages. Even university students take delight in binge-drinking and pub-crawls that often end in the destruction of other people’s property.

Today we are paying the price for giving young people the freedom to drink. Many of them stay out late at night, often till 3.00am. Next day the streets are lined with beer cans and beer bottles—some of them deliberately broken. One morning Rosemary and I picked up forty-four beer cans and bottles thrown into the bush at our local park, even though there was a council rubbish bin right beside the seat where the young people had been drinking. It’s not ‘cool’ for those in the alcohol culture to be seen obeying the rules.

Where do they get their money to buy alcohol? Most of it is given to them by their parents; the rest comes from burgled items sold at give-away prices in pubs.

What concerns me most is, what does the future hold for these young people? Some will break free of the constraints of their alcohol culture and live acceptable lives. Others will be unemployable and live on the unemployment benefit, while others will live alcohol-fuelled lives that will impact negatively on their marriages and children, while still others will spend a good proportion of their days in prison. These out-of-control people are the cause of considerable collateral damage, such as can be created by just one drunk driver, or one drunk girl in the arms of a stranger.

There is a lot of hypocrisy about the rights associated with alcohol. The tobacco industry is being successfully shackled by government legislation, and smokers are looked upon as not being very intelligent and treated with sympathy, while alcohol is praised and lauded by expert tasters. Cigarette cartons in my country carry graphic images of the damage that smoking can do to the human body, but I have yet to see a single image of a child with foetal alcohol syndrome on a wine bottle. And FAS is but one of sixty adverse medical conditions created by the consumption of alcohol, among which are cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, breast, colorectum and prostrate in men.

Furthermore, fifty-one percent of deaths from alcohol consumption are due to injuries. And a disproportionate number of these deaths by injuries occur among drunken young people.

What would you rather your child were, a heavy smoker or a heavy drinker? We wouldn’t want either, but who would choose that their child be a heavy drinker rather than a heavy smoker? Yet smoking gets far more official condemnation than drinking.

Alcohol is the country’s favourite recreational drug and enjoys a status not accorded to any other recreational drug. It is sold, often at heavily discounted prices, in specialist alcohol stores and in supermarkets that are open twenty-four hours a day.

So bad has binge-drinking by young people become that cities all around my country are creating alcohol-free zones. Beaches, parks and shopping areas are being designated alcohol-free zones.

While my father would drink the occasional beer with friends, he never had alcohol in the home, so we children grew up in an alcohol-free environment. Alcohol was never part of our culture. And it never became part of my family’s culture either. And Rosemary and I have absolutely no regrets; neither do our children or grandchildren.

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