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?