Citations and Drinking

Last week, police in Whitewater broke up a large drinking party at a house on Highland Street. They issued one-hundred thirty-two citations. See, Police issue 132 citations at Whitewater party.

I am a supporter of neither a drinking nor a drug culture; they hold no allure for me. Drinking in a house with a hundred-fifty other people, most of them underage drinkers, would never appeal to me. There’s nothing the least funny or amusing about a drunk. They’re obnoxious standing still, and dangerous to others and themselves when trying to move around or drive.

For all the debate about taking a stand against underage drinking, citing people at a house party will not stop underage use, or prevent dangerous over-consumption.

A Problem Unsolved. Whitewater’s cited, as the story correctly notes, more underage drinkers at a single time than this, previously. And yet, here’s another house party, with underage drinking. There were likely many parties between the last major house party citations (2002) and this recent one. Most were probably smaller, but add them all up, and this seemingly impressive raid looks like water on sand.

It’s odd to hear someone talk about ‘zero tolerance’ when all these efforts amount to so little behavioral change. It doesn’t matter how little one tolerates something if there’s no change in overall behavior.

Prohibition was an utter failure. Even under times of a (nearly) complete Prohibition, drinking persisted, as did the ill-consequences of over-consumption. It’s easy to list the ills of drunkenness, but prohibition didn’t prevent those ills. If anything, it drove some of them underground, and created a whole opportunity for criminal enterprises and schemes.

Listing Diseases Doesn’t Constitute a Cure. Although one can list the ill-effects of over-drinking, listing them doesn’t yield a cure. Europeans, centuries ago, knew the signs and symptoms of various plagues, but a simple list produced no cure. Sometimes, changing variable social conduct is even harder than finding the actual cause, or cure, for a plague.

Doing the same thing over, and over, without appreciable success, offers no hope for improvement. Doing something is less important than doing something effective.

Changed Climate. As with drug enforcement, official pronouncements about alcohol have run so far ahead of performance that grandiose declarations are met with increasing skepticism. People are patient, but not stupid: the same problems persist despite repetition of the same policies.

Even two decades ago, declarations about eradicating substance abuse through enforcement alone would have had widespread support. That’s no longer true — twenty years of primarily punitive efforts have not turned the tide, for drinking or drug use.

That’s why, when officials declare another major victory, their claims are met with skepticism from across political the range of political opinion. Some of the harshest ridicule comes from the right.

Here’s a test one can conduct: ask someone about what he or she thinks of the war on drugs, for example. He or she may have one of two views — a position that the war must be fought to victory through enforcement, or a view that greater emphasis on specific enforcement, treatment, and education is needed. The former group lives in the past, and repeats the dull slogans of decades ago. The latter group, more energetic and growing in numbers, offers greater dynamism and creativity.

Wait another decade, and the difference in size between the two groups will be greater still. Some day — not long, really — old-school political posturing on these problems will look like medical arguments for applying leaches. Those who have been contending for a different way will be vindicated.

They will be vindicated practically, because as with leaches, many current approaches offer no real and effective cure.

Other cultures have fewer alcohol prohibitions, but overall safety as good — or better — than ours. Over at George Mason University, at the website, there’s a section on underage drinking, with discussion of drinking ages, education programs, and effective alternatives to mere citation and prohibition that have worked in other advanced, industrial societies.

We would do well to look to advanced countries that have had success limiting the harms of over-consumption, and adopt their good practices. We can make a difference, if we’re open to doing things differently. Even if we must spend more initially for education and treatment, it’s a far better solution than repetition of ineffective efforts.

If one looks ahead eight or ten years, it’s impossible to believe that repetition of the efforts of the last eight or ten years will yield better results.

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