Enough is Enough

We don’t know what makes a person drink beyond their capability to make rational decisions.  Some call it a “sickness”, but that offers up little in terms of an explanation, especially given some people go out of their way to become intoxicated.  It takes effort.  It takes planning.  Often, it takes overcoming roadblocks put in place specifically to stop someone from overindulgence.

Them who do succumb to habitual drunkenness are often described as “the life of the party”, or “a fun person to be around”.   No, they are not.  They are loud, obnoxious, and a nuisance to others.

Some are described in benign terms, their propensity for “losing control” treated as something to make jokes about.  In reality, it’s not fun dealing with someone who is acting under the influence of alcohol, especially when it lowers their inhibition toward violence.  Even less so when they kill as a result of impaired mental faculties and functions.

The statistics are staggering.  

From HERE, in 2009 there were 10,839 alcohol-related driving fatalities, of which 1,341 were children 14 years of age or younger.  Of the 10,839 fatalities, 67% were drivers with a blood alcohol level of 0.80 or higher.  33% were car occupants and non-occupants.  For those who are math-impaired, that is about 4 kids a day.  In 2010, the number of fatalities were 13,365 . . . 36 persons a day . . . one every 40 minutes.

But, that’s not the whole picture.  In 2009, a total of 24,518 persons died of alcohol-induced causes in the United States (Tables 10, 12, and 13) . . . 67 a day . . . one every 21 minutes. This category includes deaths from dependent and nondependent use of alcohol, and also includes accidental poisoning by alcohol. It excludes unintentional injuries, homicides, and other causes indirectly related to alcohol use, as well as deaths due to fetal alcohol syndrome.

These are numbers . . . the human mind does not relate well to numbers.  How about THIS news item from last month?  Better yet, search your local news sources, and read about people getting killed near you every day.

The World Health Organization reports alcohol is responsible for 2.5 million deaths . . . annually.  That is more deaths than from AIDS, TB, or violence.

There is no indication the numbers are trending lower.  

Perhaps it’s time to rethink the laws governing the distribution and consumption of alcohol, especially, but not limited to, what is called “hard” alcohol.  I tend to be a live-and-let-live sort of person, and while I do not partake in habitual consumption of alcohol, and I am not in favor of restrictive legislation in general, I believe the freedom of people to enjoy the recreational use of alcohol conflicts with the freedom of the rest of us to enter the public sphere without the chance of our ultimate freedom of life itself being cut short. (three in every ten Americans will be involved in an alcohol-related crash at some point in their lives – reference)

Here are a few figures that should give even the most freedom-loving libertarian and recreational drinker pause.

In 2010, over 1.4 million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics. That’s one percent of the 112 million self-reported episodes of alcohol-impaired driving among U.S. adults each year.  (reference) How many go unreported?

There are approximately 80,000 deaths attributable to excessive alcohol use each year in the United States. (reference) This makes excessive alcohol use the 3rd leading lifestyle-related cause of death for the nation.

Death as a result of alcohol abuse is only part of the total picture when dealing with the cost of alcohol to society.

Two-thirds of victims who suffered violence by an intimate (a current or former spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend) reported that alcohol had been a factor. Bureau of Justice Statistics, US Department of Justice, 2006.  

Among spousal abuse victims, 75% of the incidents were reported to have involved an offender who had been drinking. Bureau of Justice Statistics, US Department of Justice, 2006.

An estimated 31% of stranger victimizations were perceived to be alcohol-related. Bureau of Justice Statistics, US Department of Justice, 2006.

Published studies suggest that as many as 86% of homicide offenders, 37% of assault offenders, 60% of sexual offenders, up to 57% of men and 27% of women involved in marital violence, and 13% of child abusers were drinking at the time of the offense. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 1997.

In 2002, more than 70,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 were victims of alcohol-related sexual assault in the U.S. “Magnitude of alcohol-related mortality and morbidity among U.S. college students ages 18-24.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 2002.

Alcohol and other drug abuse by a parent or guardian is involved in 7 out of 10 cases of child abuse and neglect; 90 percent of child welfare professionals cite alcohol as the drug of choice in these cases. “Millennium Hangover: Keeping score on alcohol,” Drug Strategies, 1999.

These statistics vary slightly from year to year, and occasionally they do trend lower, but a 2010 Gallup Poll shows the percentage of drinkers in the US has remained remarkably constant over the years.   

Have you ever heard the following?  

Alcohol is an integral part of American life. It is a normal accompaniment to most social events. Most Americans enjoy drinking on a regular basis.

When society views drinking as a normal and accepted part of life, all the associated problems may seem inevitable, and an acceptable cost to society in general.  But it’s not that simple, and all is not like it seems.

From this reference (Drinking in America: Myths, Realities, and Prevention Policy):

46 percent of adults 21 years of age and older report that they did not consume any alcohol in the past month and an additional 26 percent report drinking once a week or less.  . . . Among adults, 46 percent did not drink at all, and 31 percent drank but did not have five or more drinks on any occasion. That is, 77 percent of adults do not drink at a hazardous level.

Binge drinkers are 23 percent of the population, but drink 76 percent of the alcohol.

Frequent bingers are only 7 percent of the population, but drink 45 percent of the alcohol.

That’s adults . . . let’s look at kids:

50 percent of 12- to 14-year-old drinkers, 65 percent of 15- to 17-year-old drinkers and 72 percent of 18- to 20-year-old drinkers report heavy drinking in the past month.

Young people who drink heavily consume the vast majority of the alcohol consumed by their age group. Percentages range from 91 percent for 12- to 14-year-olds to 96 percent for 18- to 20-year-olds.  Underage drinkers consume about 11 percent of all the alcohol purchased in the United States in 2002, and the vast majority of this alcohol is consumed in a risky fashion.

Previous attempts to make alcohol illegal did not work, and there is no reason to think it would work now.  If we want to do something about this tragic social problem, damage control is our only option.  

By damage control, I mean alcohol control.  Specifically, I mean outlawing 12-packs, kegs, and hard alcohol for anyone who is not running an establishment, or held under strict regulations regarding serving alcohol to individuals.  Said establishments, bars, restaurants, resorts, and other entertainment venues such as sport arenas, would be held liable for the actions of anyone who, because of alcohol impairment, acted to the detriment of property and the public.

Other measures of damage control can include the limiting of establishments serving alcohol, raising the cost of alcohol (alcohol prices have dropped steadily for a number of years, and have not kept pace with either inflation, nor the associated cost to society, estimated at $185 billions per year), controlling advertising and promotion (alcohol manufacturers spend more than $1 billion each year advertising their products, and the beer industry alone spends $700 million per year on advertising), and registration of alcohol purchasers with compliance check programs (voluntary for most, mandatory for habitual drinkers).

To paraphrase Michael Shermer, many people are likely to see this as another loss of freedom, but I disagree.

The principle of freedom states that all people are free to think, believe, and act as they choose, so long as they do not infringe on the equal freedom of others. But the freedom for me to swing my arm ends at your nose. Your freedom to drink unrestricted is in conflict with my freedom to interact freely with my fellow citizens in public spaces when so many impaired individuals mingle among us.  

We should enact the measures listed above because the losses detailed at the beginning of this opinion piece should not be tolerated. This is no loss of freedom.  It is, in fact, an increase in freedom—the freedom to move about our living spaces without fear of being killed, assaulted, raped, or otherwise threatened by those who would willingly lower their inhibitions toward such things.

Some will see these proposed measures as extreme . . . they likely have not been touched by the collateral damage of alcohol abuse that has negatively impacted so many.  And certainly, anyone who currently enjoys this freedom is likely to be vociferous in opposing any restriction to what they deem as a right.  A right that, by point of fact, is not codified in any document or law.  It is merely an accepted social convention, and one which should not be immune from the scrutiny of civilized individuals who in so many other instances speak for the victims who can no longer raise their voices.  

There is no excuse in a civilized society for anyone to be subjected to the “acceptable cost” of this freedom, especially when such cost is so disproportionate to the benefits it provides.

Drunk Driving Memorial – Some of the millions of stories.

Endless Snake

Endless Snake


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About disperser

Odd guy with odd views living an odd life during odd times.
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15 Responses to Enough is Enough

  1. AnnMarie says:

    I would go one step further and find out what makes people drink in excess in the first place, go to the root of the problem and address it from that angle.


    • disperser says:

      Nothing is ever simple. The “why” can be complicated, the “how” even more so. And “addressing” problems in someone’s life is insanely difficult.

      First, one must agree on the definition of “problem”, and then the level demanding intervention. Second, situations change. There is life style, family life, emotional, and even genetic issues to be considered.

      Add to it that people who drink to excess often are very good at masking their problems. As you know, some live with a permanent level of inebriation, and “functioning” alcoholics. But beyond all that, addressing a problem sometime means telling others what to do. Controlling their lives.

      Who should do that? Who takes the responsibility? How many people would want to hand control of their lives over to an agency, counselor, etc? And what if addressing a problem means addressing monetary issues, grief, emotional issues, insecurities, ect.

      I am not making excuses toward taking no action. Some of what I suggest above is improbable, but some could be done. For one, the problem can be lessened (but never eliminated), just by awareness and perception. Many of the kids who don’t smoke or drink or take drugs do so because they perceive it as projecting a negative image. Others do it precisely to rebel, and see it a a way to assert themselves.

      The piece above was written to point out (in my next post) the disproportionate attention given to an occurrence, the shooting in Connecticut, that, while incredibly tragic, has the same number of victims as occurs every day (number wise), for just one of the other causes of tragedies society deals with. Even if looking at just the number of kids killed, that is about the number that die as a result of alcohols abuse every few days, and it does not even touch on kids who live in horrible conditions as a result of alcohol abuse.


  2. Coming from a long line of alcoholics I know firsthand the damage the abuse of alcohol can inflict…it is difficult if almost impossible to see reality from the inside. I had my first drink of alcohol from a baby bottle (to ease me to sleep my parents said) I drank heavily as a teen and adult and that set me back incredibly…I am proud to say that 9 1/2 years ago, to my family’s dismay, I quit by myself with no help and haven’t had a drop since…it was the smartest thing I’ve ever done.

    Thanks for posting this.


    • disperser says:

      My response to the comment above covers some of my reasons for writing it. I did not have an idyllic childhood, and while not to the level of others who are peripherally affected by it, alcoholism played a part. Echos of that reverberate throughout one’s life, as it set up situations, denies opportunities, changes the direction of one’s life, and even the decisions one makes. I am lucky to have forged a decent life for myself, but many, many others are not so lucky. For that I can thank my mother, and a part of me that made me resistant to the pull.

      Glad to hear you walked away from it, especially understanding (I don’t have personal knowledge) how difficult it can be.


  3. It is a myth that in France young children see parents drinking, and taking it as normal, become sensible drinkers. There is a huge drink problem, especially with the young in France. All young people experiment eg with clothing (check out some old photos) but experimenting with drinking is dangerous and can lead to life-long addiction.


    • disperser says:

      I was amazed, at university, by the number of people who purposefully got drunk each weekend. From what I read, it’s still going on strong.

      I have a strong antipathy to altering my perception of the world around me, of losing control of my actions and inhibitions, and the idea of purposefully doing so is so foreign to me, that I find it difficult to feel sympathy for anyone going out of their way to do so.


      • As a child I consciously decided I would never smoke, all though all the rest of the family did and the reason was that I never wanted anything like smoking or drinking to become something I could not control.


  4. Those stats are frightening. I personally know of too many people who’s lives have been taken due to drunken driving.


    • disperser says:

      I know one, and that was tragic enough. And I knew the kid well . . . he was a victim, driving home from a part-time job, of a drunk driver. Forty years later, I can still see his smiling face, and feel a kernel of anger and frustration at the memory. I can only imagine (and saw some of it) what it did to his family.


  5. Emily Heath says:

    If so many people are risking drink driving it indicates the penalties are not harsh enough to put people off trying to get away with it. Regular random checks by the police at night and a immediate five year ban (or more) on anyone caught over the limit might help – what is the penalty for drink driving at the moment, does it vary from state to state?


    • disperser says:

      It does vary, but it is more strict than what it used to be. Still too lenient, in my opinion.

      The current laws deal with limits to blood alcohol levels, but that does not take into account the fact people have different tolerances, and that someone at 0.78 BAL is just as drunk as someone with 0.80 (the limit in most states).

      I am in favor of zero tolerance. If you are going to get behind the wheel of a car, you should not be drinking, period. Not going to happen.


      • Emily Heath says:

        I wonder if a lack of public transport might also be behind the figures. When visiting Ohio I was shocked to find pavements didn’t exist along many roads, so I was trapped in my hotel until someone who could drive turned up. No buses either! Whereas drunk people in the UK have the choice of walking, bus, taxi etc.


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  7. ayitl says:

    Alcohol is a terrible drug – I do drink myself (but not a lot), howeer I have in the past been ashamed of my own actions following drinking. Do you think it would be banned if introduced today?


    • disperser says:

      That is an interesting question. Aspirin might be banned if introduced today.

      But, were I to assume alcohol were discovered today. I would imagine it would follow the same route as every other drug; it would be illegal, people would use it anyway (you don’t even need a drug cartel to get it – you can make your own) and eventually we’d end up where we are today . . . wishing it were not so, but a part of our society, with all the associated costs.

      Unfortunately, we can trace alcohol use back a very long way, and it also occurs naturally in nature (rotting fruits can make birds drunk). Its acceptance is nearly universal despite its effects and societal costs being well known and documented.

      I have no reason to suspect anything would change if it were just discovered.


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