The key to ending alcoholism is to prevent anyone under 21 from drinking:
"Alcohol is a drug - a powerful, mood-altering drug - and alcoholism is a disease," says Dr. Robert Morse, board member of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Inc., and recently retired from the Mayo Clinic, where he was director of addictive disorders. "Over the past two decades, scientific research has revolutionized our understanding of how drugs affect the brain. We now know that prolonged, repeated drug and alcohol use can result in fundamental, long-lasting changes in brain structure and functioning. This is one of the reasons underage drinking is so critical. Not only are there a whole set of increased risks in the short-term, the long-term physical and biochemical effects put these drinkers at risk for the rest of their lives."
We have our work cut out for us. According to the article by Joel Kaufman in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:
"Alcohol is the drug most frequently used by American teenagers. Young people drink alcohol more frequently than they use all other illicit drugs combined. . . . many underage drinkers are often first presented with alcohol in their own dining rooms, living rooms and kitchens."
The solution: "Changing cultural misconceptions and behaviors about alcohol use through education." In other words, explain to kids that alcohol is dangerous, they shouldn't drink it, and make sure parents know that giving kids alcohol is equivalent to child abuse! That should solve America's drinking problems.
Let's look at Europe for a moment. Not all European societies have less alcohol abuse than Americans. Only some do. The World Health Organization survey, Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children, found these countries had the lowest incidence of drunkenness among 15-year-olds: Macedonia, Israel, France, Italy, Greece, Malta (is that even a real country?), Portugal, Spain - all of which ranked lower than the United States.
But, wait a second. All of these cultures readily give alcohol to children. I just returned from spending my daughter's spring break with her in Spain and Portugal. I confess, although Anna is only 20, we had wine with our meals!
I know I should have explained to the servers, who brought wine to us along with the olive oil, that Anna was too young to drink, and that it would lead to her catching a permanent disease. But I feared that our hosts would never understand me. In the first place, the drinking age in Southern European countries is 16. In the second, children of any age are allowed to drink in restaurants with their parents.
What the hell is the matter with those Europeans? Aren't they smart enough to realize that drinking at an early age leads to a lifelong risk of alcoholism? I have the same problem when I try to explain to Europeans that the war in Iraq is good. I hate to say it - Europeans are just plain dumb!
And, I hate to say this even more, but a lot of Europeans remain dumb after they arrive here. Oh, some of them get with the program and realize that alcohol is a poison kids should be protected against. But you would be amazed how many of them still give kids alcohol (like some Jews do on Passover).
Come to think of it, we had the same problem with Prohibition. You remember Prohibition? The 18th Amendment to the Constitution banned the production and sale of alcohol. (I admit I am a little resentful because I had to memorize two whole additional Amendments to the Constitution when I went to law school - the 21st Amendment was passed to repeal the 18th.)
Midwesterners and Southerners and conservative Protestant groups like Baptists and Mormons led the fight to make alcohol illegal. But many immigrant groups failed to get the message - and so they continued drinking even though this violated the Constitution! (Do I even have to mention that those Southern European countries never banned alcohol - so law students there don't have to learn even one alcohol-related amendment?)
As a psychologist, I try to get into the minds of Europeans. I honestly believe many simply don't realize how evil alcohol is (Jews even have a prayer blessing wine!) - yes, they're in denial against American science. Instead, they think of it as a benign substance they learned to enjoy at meals and celebrations with their parents, as Mr. Kaufman wrote, "in their own dining rooms, living rooms and kitchens." (I know - it makes my blood curdle too.)
But - and here's the problem - they seem to be misled about these horrifying practices by the low levels of alcohol abuse they experience. A classic study followed a group of inner-city Boston adolescents for many decades. George Vaillant, in The Natural History of Alcoholism, found that Irish-Americans (Ireland is the one culture in Europe that most shares our fear and loathing of alcohol) were almost ten times as likely to become alcoholics as were Italian, Greek, and Jewish youths they lived side by side with.
You see the difficulty - the only way we can persuade them about the evils of alcohol is to make sure their children are damaged as badly as our children are by drinking. Golly, it makes my head hurt to figure out this paradox. You just can't talk sense to a European!
Finally, after a lot of thought, I've come up with a brilliant three-pronged international attack on alcoholism:
• Americans should never let their kids go to Italy, France, or Greece - or even talk to Italians, French people, or Greeks
• While George Bush is in Europe at NATO meetings, he should explain how he was an alcoholic until well into his adulthood, when he got religion and quit drinking, so that they should not drink
• Bomb Spain and Portugal so they don't corrupt any more kids!
Follow Stanton on Twitter
P.S. (Feb 13, 2009), David Seaton, describing why Spaniards experience the worldwide financial crisis differently than Americans do:
Spanish social life is an endless round of weddings, baptisms, first communions, pub crawls with friends and late dinners with lively conversation into the small hours over the ruins of a copious, well irrigated, meal. High consumption of hard goods and services adds to the charms of this existence based on eating and drinking with family and friends you've known since childhood, but cutting back on it all doesn't affect the basic underpinnings of this extended family life.
P.S.S. (Sept. 22, 2009), There are some enormously funny comments on this post. No matter how many previous commentators point out its ironical nature, people like Heidi are enraged at my jingoism:
I came upon this title via twitter. What a find. Psychology Today should go the way of many magizines, end printing.
Why on earth would someone with alcohol issues or addiction issues come to you for help. You have just admitted that you would bomb a country to change it to your way of thinking, not even accepting that you are a walking paradigm salad that Europeans wouldn't eat.
Europeans are dumb? Who is your audience? Are you expecting people to agree with you, or do your editors know that people respond with comments to filth at a greater rate than they would to 'brilliance' or something healthy and valuable.
You need to retire the rest of the way, and keep your illness away from others. Psychology Today lost my readership while I was still in High School; I'm 45.
I am happy to see that most of these comments find your writing distasteful. Mayo Clinic.... ????
Be sure to read the following responses to this post by our bloggers: