Sunday, June 28, 2009

What Have We Been Drinking?

The use and abuse of alcohol causes incredible amounts of damage to individuals, families, and society itself. Everyone knows that, but few people really consider all the details. Let’s think about those.

Drinkers often suffer a loss of work productivity, either from drinking or from hangovers the next day. They may develop or exacerbate weight issues by consuming the empty calories in alcoholic drinks. Excessive drinking can cause medical problems through damaging the liver or other organs. The loss of judgment that comes from drinking can lead to any number of bad results from poor decisions – from bar fights to dangerous stunts to unwanted pregnancies.

Families, of course, suffer from all the problems of the individuals. In addition, they can be damaged by the drinker turning violent, spending too much money on drinking, and patterning poor behavior in front of impressionable children. Perhaps the most drastic damage comes from drunk drivers, who can devastate or destroy an entire family with one alcohol-induced accident.

Society has to deal with all those problems writ large. The medical issues increase medical and insurance costs – likewise the drunk driver accidents. Hangovers have a noticeable effect on our Gross National Product every Monday morning. Police have to deal with the aftermath of the bar fights, the stunts, the accidents. Even the raw materials for alcoholic beverages divert agricultural resources away from more nutritional products, thus raising food prices for us all.

And yet, very few people would suggest making this disastrously dangerous drug illegal. Why? Well, we tried it once. It didn’t work. It led to a massive increase in the size, wealth, and power of organized crime. It increased the levels of violence in the streets as those criminal mobs fought the police and each other. It led to horrible corruption in the police and government officials, who found it easier and more profitable to cooperate with criminals than to combat them. Most of all, it turned a large percentage of previously law-abiding citizens into criminals as they turned to illegal sources to get the alcohol they wanted. That had to lead to a lessened respect for the law in general – a small but significant step away from the rule of law, and into anarchy. All that…and we still had all the negative effects from alcohol consumption, since the law did little to actually stop people from drinking! In a few years, we discovered that the "cure" of Prohibition was worse than the disease it purported to treat - and we stopped.

It took fourteen years for our nation to realize that the Eighteenth Amendment was a mistake, and that prohibition of alcohol didn’t work. We’ve been fighting the “War of Drugs” for at least 40 years. How long will it take us to relearn the same lesson?

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