The Shrubbery
August 1999
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Why is Drinking Still Cool?

by Jessica Brandt

"Hey, are you 21 yet?"
"Not yet, why?"
"I wanted you to buy me some Jack Daniels."
"Why would I do that?"
"I like whiskey."
"Yeah but drinking kills people."
"So does smoking, and you smoke. That's bad! Drinking doesn't hurt anyone, and it's fun!"

I recently had this conversation with two of my under-18 co-workers. I wonder what the two people my father nearly killed as a result of drinking and driving would say to them in response to that last comment. I wonder if they'd tell them about how they were just minding their own business when some guy driving a minivan drove into them, head-on, one chilly autumn night and changed their lives forever. I wonder if they would show those guys their permanent scars, and maybe tell them about their nightmares.

I don't know what they would think. I've never met them. I don't know who these two people are. But I think about them every day. They would be able to prove those boys wrong.

They are correct, in one respect. I do smoke, and smoking kills people. With all this recent legislation against tobacco companies, kids seem to be getting the message. Smoking is NOT cool, and it does nothing but waste money and waste precious life. Second-hand smoke is not only bothersome but also somewhat dangerous to non-smokers.

Good. Got the message? Don't smoke!

But why is drinking still cool?

I've noticed recently that while the government is using their "Big Hand O'Governing" to protect children from smoking by axing Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man, the beer companies are giving them a big "Nayh Nayh!" by targeting their commercials and other advertising to a younger crowd.

Case in point #1: The new MGD commercial features barely-legal people having quite the house party all to the tune of the classic hip-hop "It Takes Two." My brother, his friends, (all over 21) and I agreed that even though we are not big drinkers that the commercial very much made us want to drink. More than any picture of a phallic-nosed camel ever made us want to smoke.

Case in point #2: The Budweiser frogs, the Budweiser lizards, the Budweiser ferrets, the Bud Bowl, the Budweiser Clydesdales, Busch Gardens, Coors Field, etc. etc. All things geared towards kids in one respect or another. Last time I was at www.themeworld.com, looking for some desktop themes, the hottest one was "Frank and Louie," the Budweiser lizards. You can't tell me that all those were downloaded by adults. I know for a fact that when Bud came out with a "Bud-weis-er" Frogs screen saver that an 18-year-old friend of mine (who doesn't drink) downloaded it, and he thought it was the greatest thing!

Case in point #3: On both the day after St. Patrick's Day and "Fat Tuesday", the front page of my college newspaper, The Daily Kent Stater, carried headlining stories about the enormous beer-company-backed parties that consumed downtown Kent. In the St. Patrick's Day article, the reporter mentioned how the bars were already crowded by 10 a.m., and people were drunk by 11. Bar owners were excited. The tone of the article wasn't negative, and no one gave a second thought to how many students went drinking that day instead of going to class, or how many drank from 10 a.m. until they passed out later that evening. Given the general assumption that Kent is a 4-year college and most students come there at the age of 18, roughly 75% of the students at KSU are under the legal drinking age. And this sort of story is just another day in the life of a Stater reporter.

So what's my point? My point is that while the government is taking all this action to stop underage smoking, as well as taxing the begeezus out of the companies and of-age customers, they are doing little to quell the country's obvious acceptation of, nay, obsession with alcohol and alcohol abuse.

So what is "alcohol abuse" as compared to, say, social drinking? According to an Alcoholics Anonymous 12-question quiz, if you can answer yes to four questions, you are in need of help. Here are five questions that I'd imagine any college drinker might answer "yes" to:

Do you wish people would mind their own business about your drinking-- stop telling you what to do?

Have you ever switched from one kind of drink to another in the hope that this would keep you from getting drunk?

Do you envy people who can drink without getting into trouble?

Have you had problems connected with drinking during the past year?

Do you ever try to get "extra" drinks at a party because you do not get enough? (ie drink before or after you leave)

Have you missed days of work or school because of drinking?

Most people will say that "one or two drinks every now and then won't hurt you" and this is true . But with drinking, it's either all or nothing. I don't know many people who drink occasionally and have never gotten drunk. I don't know many people who drink occasionally and have never driven drunk.

I don't want to preach. I also don't want people to think that I am alluding to some "smoking isn't as bad as drinking" war, because that's not the case. I am worried about the country's lack of focus on the problem of drinking, especially among under-age kids. We do so much to keep these kids out of R-rated films, and to keep them from smoking and doing other drugs, but when will people learn that alcohol IS a drug? It WILL mess up not only your body but also your mind. And for more than a few, it will end up not only hurting their own lives, but lives of many others.

According to www.jaydn.com, a site about the affects of alcohol and underage drinking, "If a child drinks between the ages of thirteen and twenty one, there is a ninety two percent chance he or she will drink the rest of their life. If that child waits until the legal age of twenty-one to take that first legal drink, there is only a ten per cent chance that child will drink the rest of his or her life."

This is reason number one why we need to STOP the marketing of alcohol to younger crowds and start educating youth on the long-term effects of alcohol. Of the six 17-to-19 year olds I asked "Which is worse, smoking or drinking?" only one answered "drinking." What's going to happen when these kids get to college? They will most likely be easily swept up into the "college experience" which consists mostly of drinking, and in many cases, binge drinking.

MADD reports that 15,936 people were killed in alcohol-related traffic accidents in 1998, which is down from 1997. If you think that is a small number of people, consider this: There are roughly 3,500 kids in my city's school district (K-12). 16,000 deaths would wipe out my school district and 3 or 4 others of a comparable size. And these deaths don't just affect one person. For every person killed, there are parents, grandparents, children, spouses, lovers, friends, teachers, co-workers, neighbors and whole communities whose lives will never be the same. This statistic doesn't even show the effects of the lives of those people who weren't killed, but have to spend their lives with some sort of disability thanks to the irresponsibility of another.

Alcohol can lead to a party, I suppose. And alcohol can also lead to vehicular homocide. Murder.

Why isn't much being done, then? Why are stadiums still sponsored by beer companies, and animated amphibians still selling beer? Why do I have to get trampled and slobbered on by large groups of drunken people at concerts in clubs where I can't even smoke?

Because America accepts drinking, and makes excuses for drunkenness. I am not calling out for prohibition. I'm not pointing the finger at anyone, or trying to say that I am better than anyone because I don't drink. I do drink on occasion! I have gotten drunk! Believe me, it takes a lot for me to admit that. A lot of my friends read this and it's not something I want them to know. And is it society's fault that I am still not "of age" yet have experienced such things? No, but society sure isn't helping.

America needs to get its priorities straight and begin to crack down on alcohol like they are cracking down on tobacco and have always been cracking down on drugs. Alcohol is a drug. The government needs to regulate the presence of beer companies in our culture as much as they regulate tobacco companies.

As soon as that happens, I'll be able to sleep at night knowing that in the future maybe someone else's daughter won't have to carry around the guilt that I have for two people I've never even met.

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