When I was in high school during the early 70’s the drinking age was 18 years old. Every one of my friends was a big drinker; some of them even drank in my father’s bar, where I worked. It was unbelievable how much booze these kids could consume. I witnessed kids drinking a case of beer in one night, others drinking pitchers of mixed drink, and still others drinking booze right out of a bottle. I myself would have a few beers occasionally, but my real drinking didn’t start until I was about 25 years old. By the way the girls in high school used to go crazy for the guys who were called the big drinkers. It seemed like the prettiest girls were impressed with a guy who could drink a pitcher of beer without coming up for air. Drinking was common place in the early seventies. Then all of a sudden you would hear about a group of teenagers who were killed in an alcohol related car wreck, That’s when everyone laid low for a while, and didn’t drink or at least didn’t drink and drive.
After one too many of these alcohol related accidents, the laws and the penalties got stiffer. The parents who had one of their children killed because of a drunk driver started to organize and formed the group Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). The students who had their friends killed in accidents formed Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD). Police task forces were organized and were trained to identify people who were driving a car under the influence of alcohol. The word designated driver took on meaning. This was supposed to be the person who didn’t drink at the party and could drive everyone else home who was drunk. It started to be less and less fashionable to be drunk at a party, and heavy drinking was starting to become taboo.
I spent about 10 years of heavy drinking myself between the ages of 25 and 35. I decided to quit when my daughter Sarah was born, and so I stopped all alcohol consumption. This was probably the best thing that I ever did for my own health, and for the welfare of my kids. Sarah will be 17 soon if you do the math, I haven’t been a drinker for almost 17 years. Sarah even commented to me on more than one occasion, “Dad I am so glad that you don’t drink.” She has been around some of her friends’ parents who are big drinkers and she has seen some behavior that she didn’t like. I felt very proud that I heard this from my daughter, until I discovered about 100 beer cans in the cellar of her house from a party that had gone on there about one week earlier. I started to wonder if she was going to take my place as the family lush. When I questioned her about the beer cans she said, “Oh yeah, dad can you take them to your house to get rid of them? Mom doesn’t want to put them out at the curb here because she thinks it might look bad.” I said to her, “You’re damn right it looks bad, it’ll look bad no matter where you put those cans.” I asked her why she was drinking. She responded with, “It helps you get loosened up.” “Loosened up for what?” I said. She finished the dialog by saying, “Dad I’m shy, and it makes it easier for me to have conversations with other people.”
The alcohol related problems that have occurred in society today, like people getting killed in auto accidents, or the health related issues like a rotten liver due to heavy drinking, are widely publicized by the media. Kids are told that they can’t drink and drive. But it doesn’t stop them.
I only have to go back to my daughter’s comment to find the reason why she was drinking: “Dad I’m shy and it makes it easier for me to have a conversation with other people.” Why is this comment she made so troubling to me? Because if the booze helps her with her shyness, then when will she ever develop the skills to talk to people without the booze? When young people make it a habit to drink in order to deal with problems they have socially, this causes their emotions to go dormant at the age that they started to drink, which then prevents them from maturing emotionally. Drinking becomes their social and emotional coping mechanism. These young people do not experience the natural growing pains that must be gone through where they learn how to interact with others on their own, without using the alcohol to help them. Natural growing pains that are part of the maturing process should not be avoided or salved by the use of alcohol because the alcohol will only retard maturity or cause it to never be developed.
Young people who drink become extremely one dimensional. They do not become interesting people. They don’t develop a wide variety of interests or hobbies. They have desire to hang around with anyone who seems different, so they really limit the kinds of things they talk about or do. They basically stay stuck where they are at the age they started drinking. This whole thing reminds me of a book I read by Robert Bly called The Sibling Society. This book talks about a society with no vertical vision. The only gaze that the people have is a horizontal one. This means that people can see only those who are in their immediate view.
As we now go through yet another generation of alcohol abuse it’s time to realize what alcohol is really doing to our young people who have to learn how to be emotionally mature, but won’t if they continue to drink. We can’t rely on the media to communicate this societal problem. The media without fail covers stories about stars who have alcohol and drug abuse related problems. What comes across to young people is that these stars enter a rehabilitation program for drug and alcohol addiction, and then they come out waving to the public looking perfectly cured. The only message that gets conveyed is that there are no really bad consequences to drinking.
I think the thing that troubles me the most is the observations that I have made of my own life. At 25 years old I was a heavy drinker and I really didn’t know why I drank the way I did. Often I would go the refrigerator for a beer and ask myself the question, am I thirsty or depressed? I really didn’t have the answer then. I believe that I do now. The reality is I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin. Social situations made me uncomfortable, a few drinks did the trick and I became more adept at holding conversations with other people and interacting in a group. When I was 35 years old my daughter Sarah was born and I made the decision to quit drinking so that she would never see the damaging effects of alcohol. My daughter started to drink for the same reason that I did which frightens me to no end. I guess I am going to have to go through some growing pains now at 53 years old, along with my daughter who is almost 17. I wish that I had been through this process 30 years ago. I wonder who will grow up first, my daughter or me. Time will tell.