Tag Archives: smoking

The Problems with Problem Drinking

alcohol drinksWhenever the topic of drinking laws or, more recently, marijuana laws comes up in my writing classes, I will hear a simple pronouncement against prohibition based on the historic Prohibition effected by the 18th Amendment. These students will say something like this: “More people drank during Prohibition than before or after.”

Of course, my highly knowledgeable freshmen have no evidence to back up this supposed fact. Perhaps since everyone in the movies based in those times (but not so much in movies made in those times) seems to be spending all their free time in a crowded speakeasy, they assume that everybody was slamming back the booze between the 18th and 21st Amendments. I typically point out that if the Sinclair Lewis novel Babbitt is any real indication, procuring alcohol was possible but far from easy in those days. They’re not impressed.

All of this is a long journey to introduce a new study on the significance of problem drinking in the United States.

Researchers from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism asked 36,000 adults during 2012 or 2013 about lifetime drinking habits, including current or within the past year. About 14 percent of adults were current or recent problem drinkers, or nearly 33 million nationally, and 30 percent — almost 69 million — had been at some point in their lives.

I’m neither a smoker nor a drinker, but I am continuously mystified at how our culture absolutely vilifies smoking, placing smokers perhaps one step up from those who waterboard nuns, while drinkers pretty much receive a pass on any blame.

The last time I checked, smoking did not have a connection with domestic violence, did not cause fatal automobile accidents, or otherwise immediately and significantly harm people other than the person lighting the cigarette. (Yes, I know about the second hand smoke research, but since the worst of that happens within families to children, none of the recent smoking restrictions have made much progress on that front.) Why then do we take smoking so seriously and make only passing criticism of all the bad stuff that alcohol does to our society?

 

 

Betty Draper Indulges Her Cravings

Betty DraperI will confess that I am writing this out of a measure of ignorance, having not watched all of the Mad Men episodes released to date. However, with the first five and one- third seasons under my belt, I feel confident in claiming that Betty Draper Francis is a woman living in the flesh.

Certainly I could have just as easily laid that charge against her ex-husband, the complicated Don Draper, but since Betty seems to drag a great deal less baggage in her wake her flesh-focused life seems less justified and more lamentable.

Somewhere, in the years before Betty found herself swept away by Don, in the murky prehistory before Season 1, Betty would have seemed to have it all: Bryn Mawr education, a sturdy (if not wealthy) family, dazzling good looks, and, upon Don’s entrance on the scene, a dashing husband going places. What more could this  fifties woman want? Yet it wasn’t enough.

By the time we meet Betty, she, like her husband, is self-medicating with nicotene. Don might have been in the majority–something like 54% of American men smoked in the early 1960s–but Betty belonged to the roughly one-third of women who indulged in that habit. Betty also drinks, sometimes to excess. Yet tobacco and alcohol do not sooth the pains that this woman feels. During Season 1, she visits a psychiatrist, ostensibly because of psychosomatic numbness in her hands.

While Betty fantasizes at least a couple of times about being sexually unfaithful, her indulgence in this area seems decidedly amateurish compared with Don’s continual transgressions. Still, at the end of Season 2, she picks up a complete stranger in a bar and retires with him to a back room. This, unsurprisingly, does not satisfy her.

After divorcing Don and marrying the enigmatic (and somewhat dull) Henry Francis, she seems for a moment to be satisfied. But her misery continues, visited on her ex, her children, and husband number two. Eventually, the show inflicts the ultimate indignity on the lovely actress and presents us with “Fat Betty.” Food, though, fails to satisfy this woman. I dread to see what the remaining run of the show will drag her into. Betty the junky?

You wouldn’t know it from looking at me, but I am Betty Draper–or at least I have been. At one time or another, we are all Betty Draper, vaguely unhappy in the flesh and convinced that the right combination of fleshly stimuli will scratch that itch. We might try food or liquor, smoke or sex. We might think that the right clothes upon this body, the right car in which to move it, or the right house for it to call home will do the trick.

More to the point of my interests, we might seek to sooth that bodily dissatisfaction with actions that seem like absolutely positive things. “If I can lose ten more pounds and get my six-pack abs… If I could only eat organic, free-range, humanely raised food… If I can get just my golf handicap down or my bench press up… If I can only run a longer race or a faster time, then everything will be great.” The fleshly idols of today are different from those Betty worshiped, but they can be idols nonetheless.

If I could counsel Betty, I would advise her that cigarettes or booze are poor choices. (We might differ on the latter, but that’s a matter for another day.) But her other wants are, in moderation and, especially, with the right outlook,  positives. It is the same for us. The inclination to eat right, to exercise, and to pursue other matters of the flesh can glorify God or they can simply be what they are for Betty: an attempt to fix a spiritual ache with a physical medication.