Sunday, June 12, 2005

One in ten

What would happen if, in tomorrow’s news, we read that the consumption of chocolate has been found to result in severe mental and physical health problems, making it impossible for chocolate-eaters to continue working, causing them to burn down their own homes or commit other violent acts upon their own family members, and leading them to kill members of the general public in a random manner, and that these side effects afflict one out of ten people who consume chocolate?

Would we continue to advertise and sell and glamorize chocolate hither and yon? Would we have whole magazines devoted to the preparation and consumption and presentation of chocolates from around the world? Would we continue to include chocolate at our tables for special holidays or everyday meals? Would directors include chocolate-eating in their movie scenes?

Or would we begin to see articles detailing the dire consequences of chocolate consumption? Would we be shown the “face” of chocolate-intoxication? The staggering, the drooling and slurred speech, the rage, the rotting teeth, the poverty and homelessness, the violence, death and disease, the despair and suicidal depression?

Obviously, I am writing not about chocolate, but about alcohol, the world’s most-abused drug, the drug that causes more heartache than any other, as it rips apart families, leads to fatal car collisions and most domestic abuse, and causes severe-to-fatal injury to brain, liver, and other essential organs of those ensnared by its addictive lure.

One in ten people who consume alcohol end up having a major problem with it for which they require outside help, help that all too often is unavailable. One in ten! Think of how many families are faced with one or more of their kin struggling with this deadly drug!

And yet, the pervasive messages about alcohol in every medium are positive ones, extolling flavor, and status, and glamour, and fun, and excitement, and sociability. Everywhere you look, alcohol positively sparkles!

Unlike tobacco, alcohol has no major advertising campaign detailing the realities of alcohol and its effects on the mind, the body, and society. The closest would be the MADD ads, but what we need is to de-glamorize its use.

Instead of gorgeous, gowned models tipping back their martinis, we need images of habitual drunks, staggering and drooling and fighting and retching on the floors of dirty restrooms. We need images of drunks veering down the highways, killing innocent people, and then in the dock being sentenced for murder. We need images of long-term drunks, with yellowing eyes and the glassy stare of cerebral edema. We need the images of lovely holiday dinners shattered by the excess drinking of one family member, the terror in the eyes of children when a parent is drinking. We need to hear the stories of families who have tried to rescue their kin from the street when drinking has resulted in homelessness and all the person wants is that next drink. We need all of these images, and more, lurking everywhere, on billboards and in magazines, on the sides of buses, on television and in movies and in newspapers.

Prohibition clearly does not work. But an ad campaign that focuses on the reality of alcohol abuse, if all those images could possibly be lodged in the memories of drinkers, just might provide enough of a reality check that people who begin to have problems with alcohol will recognize that fact, and address it at a much earlier stage, when it is more easily treatable. And, if such a campaign prevents some people from drinking at all, so much the better. Because “one in ten” turns out to be a very large number!


Anonymous Anne said...

Yes! Yes! Yes! We need to make alcohol less respectable, less ‘normal’ as a start, as the best prevention of all. Nowdays you’re some kind of goodytwoshoes if you don’t drink, or they think you must have a problem handling it or something, you poor dear.

Prevention is the only way to nip this in the bud. Otherwise it is costly in every way one can image. I’m sure the Department of Health and Human Services could cost this one out. But it would be staggering and too obvious!

The Surgeon General should be leading this one, but since most of Congress are lushes and in bed with corporate America, that isn’t about to happen. Government needs to serve We the People, but I’m afraid those days are history. The Fall of the American Empire, from within. Can anyone see it while its happening, or only after?

THE BIG PROBLEM, however, it seems to me, is that the alcohol industry would not like it and neither would The Machine. Think of advertising revenues. They must be in the billions. And that is just one related industry. Everyone who is into money (government, industry, investors, advertisers, etc.) benefits from this culture of and ’economy’ of alcohol. And the people self-anesthetize. What a deal. It’s like a symbiotic relationship. Is that good for this country’s soul? No. But it drives the economy, the only measure of, and source of, our ‘prosperity’, so no one cares what it does to the social fabric and people’s lives.

They also do not want people to ‘take it or leave it’ and be light, occasional drinkers. Like the Tobacco Industry, the alcohol industry wants a lifelong customer with brand loyalty. Bud Light and the Marlboro Man are the same deliberate appeals to ego and identity, building that loyalty that brings in steady money. The effects of addiction are irrelevant to the industry. That’s our problem. It’s all the same scheme though.

And then people ‘self-medicate’ more as they feel more frantic and stressed. They sense how shallow and meaningless and screwed up everything is in our world (especially our country), but keeping up with the ‘lifestyle’ is rewarding, in the short term short-term reward. And when it’s not, there’s alcohol as the drug of choice. For others there are other drugs, including shopping. That’s another one that is being promoted as ‘an experience’, and the blatant imposition of name brands on clothing and other items is along this same vein (vain).

People are also becoming less connected to things bigger than themselves like community and social causes. That’s why tragedies bring out the best in people - they finally can experience the connection again. The ‘benefit’ that people get from alcohol, at least initially, is that it gives them an instant connection with others and the good feeling that accompanies it.

Anyway, ‘relax and have a drink’, they say. ‘Laugh with your ‘friends’. It might not be real, but it feels good. And reality might feel a little too real if you don’t.

As T.S. Eliot said, ‘Humankind cannot bear very much reality’.

Keep on! I just couldn’t resist adding my two cents worth.

4:55 PM  

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