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1 Alcohol Abuse

The day that I turned eighteen was the day that I thought I had reached the pinnacle of my life. I

thought that being profiled as a child had come to an end. Little did I know that my next three

years would be the time that I would face the most frustration as being treated as a child. This

would be the time in my life in which I was an official adult but yet some how I was still a minor

in one aspect. The cause of my frustration was the fact that I could not purchase an alcoholic

drink when I was enjoying a night out on the town or anywhere else. This is where the

for this paper comes from. We can all agree that alcohol is the root of many problems for many

people. The way in which people choose to combat this problem is what really frustrates me. The

purpose of this paper is to take a closer look into the problem of alcohol abuse and the

approaches that are being taken to curtail them. I will analyze these problems with sociological

theories and perspectives in mind in order to more accurately assess the current situation in

American society. I feel that the response via law and legislation has taken a turn for the worst. It

was my charge in writing this paper to prove that the problems of alcohol abuse can not simply

fixed with an array of laws. It is my intention to take a closer look at the current situation and

prove that some of the problems are either caused or worsened by the social situation that we are

faced with today in the United States. It is my belief that the way to which we can fix problems

with alcohol is not to put as many restrictions as possible around it but rather to educate as many

people as possible on alcohol consumption in moderation.

Before we enter our journey into the realm of sociological perspectives we first need to

identify the problem and all that it encompasses. This is an issue in its self but I will briefly
describe some of the problems surrounding this issue. These problems can be identified in a

couple different categories. First we have harm to self which includes increase morbidity and

mortality rates. These two issues encompass a vast number of things including; lethal overdose,

gastrointestinal tract problems, liver problems, increased risk of cancer, cardiovascular problems

and diseases, birth defects, nervous system damage and a number of mental syndromes(west,

1984).The issues that gain the most attention are the ones that include accidents, especially

involving motor vehicles. Considering some statistics accidents we can see that there is a pattern

between drinking and accidents (We must keep in mind that although there is a pattern this does

not necessarily mean that alcohol was the direct cause of the accident). We see that 70 percent of

people that died from a fatal fall had been drinking, 90 percent of burn cases were result of

alcohol , 50-69 percent of drowning victims had been drinking(West, 1984) . The biggest issue is

driving accidents involving motor vehicles. It comes as no surprise that this issue has caused

a stir considering that 1, 049,900 crashes in 1999 were alcohol related (MADD). With all of this

information one can clearly see that alcohol abuse is a definite social problem in American

But this is a well documented problem that has plagued America since Colonial Days. But the

current situation is what boggles my mind. What is this current situation you might ask? The

answer is most easily revealed in a few statistics. Forty two percent of college students are binge

drinkers. This is up from thirty four percent from a study that was conducted in 1993. Twenty

eight percent of students interviewed said that they had been drunk 3 or more times in the last

month, this is up from twenty three percent in 1993. Thirty six percent of students interviewed

said that they had driven after drinking. This had also increased from 1993(Student BMJ). The

MADD website puts it the best when they say “Alcohol related traffic deaths are on the rise, and
underage drinking levels have reached a plateau…..” With this I can’t help but wonder what is

going on. In order to help solve this mystery we should endeavor into the world of Sociological

All seven of the sociological perspectives offer a very valid point of view. They also offer
a valuable set of solutions. But I have chosen to concentrate on the four that I see the best

fit for

the current situation in American society. The four that I have chosen to concentrate on are

labeling, social construction, value conflict and deviant behavior. The applications of these

perspectives will allow us to shed a new light on this age old problem that has its own modern

day complications.

One of the main problems groups with alcohol abuse and binge drinking is the underage crowd.

This group includes those between the ages of eighteen to twenty one. To analyze this situation I

would like to take a step back from conventional thought and think of this in light of the

sociological perspective of labeling. In 1984 Federal legislation was passed that denied states

access to federal highway funds if they failed to higher their drinking age to twenty one years of

age (Gordis, Enoch). By doing this they inevitably labeled all those under twenty one

irresponsible and unable to handle consuming an alcoholic beverage as any other legal adult was

able to do. I specifically look at those that are deemed legal adult in this situation. Although we

could include all children we have to draw the line somewhere and realize that the human brain

is not fully developed and capable of making certain decisions at younger ages. In the United

States we have drawn that line at eighteen for nearly everything. Therefore by taking away
access of a legal substance from a group of adults who are between the age of eighteen and

twenty one labels them as troublemakers. The labeling model then explains that after this group

is labeled deviant then they will continually participate in deviant behavior. For this I would like

to look at the policies and changes in the United States. As I mentioned earlier in 1984 there was

a federal policy that caused all of the states to raise there minimum legal drinking age to twenty

one. The second more recent intense action is to take a zero tolerance stance. This has a large

push on the national level but also is prevalent in other venues such on college campuses. This

zero tolerance has intensified the labeling of this age group. In the natural process of the labeling

perspective people in this age group has become labeled and begin to participate in deviant

behavior. In this particular case it is alcohol abuse. As evidence I would like to point to a few
studies that show that alcohol use by

this group of people. First we can remember the evidence that was pointed out in an earlier

paragraph. These statistics clearly point out that alcohol abuse by college students is on the rise.

is particularly interesting because it evaluates the trend over the last ten years or so. During this

ten year period there has also been a trend for an increase in alcohol laws and zero tolerance for

enforcement in many different venues. So if the problem of alcohol abuse is observed from this

perspective we see that the first condition of the perspective has also taken place. Second we see

that the predicated outcome has taken place, with the increase of alcohol abuse by minors (It

be noted that although this trend can be correlated with the drinking age laws and the zero

tolerance, we can not prove that they are directly correlated but we can recognize that the trends

could be related). But there is hope according to this perspective. The solution must come from a

re-labeling process. The most obvious way that this can occur is to reverse the way in which this
label was placed on this age group. That would be the lowering of the drinking age to parallel the

legal age for most everything else. Other solutions could be plausible but would require giving

responsibility back to this age group and this is hard to do with a double standard.

Another valuable perspective that can be applied to the issue of alcohol abuse in our society is

social construction perspective. In order to analyze this theory it is beneficial to look into the
history of alcohol in America and what has occurred throughout history. In colonial times settlers

brought alcohol from Europe to the colonies (Hall). However, there was not a movement against

any sort of drinking until the war for independence. During this time the continental congress

made a statement that states should cut back on alcohol quotas for soldiers (Hall). As in the

of Social Construction this decree slowly withered away and heavy drinking was the norm. But

the natural cycle of the Social Construction theory the idea of abstinence from alcohol first

reemerged in 1789 when the first temperance organization was formed in Litchfield Connecticut

(Hall). Support for this movement continued and in 1826 the first national organization for

temperance was formed. This group encompassed a large amount of people and was successful

closing down a few distilleries. After this there was a constant effort for temperance, but the

mobilization of temperance and prohibition was diluted by the differences in these groups. The

next re-emergence of temperance was fueled by local attacks of alcohol by The Women’s

Temperance Movement (Hall). At the same time the anti saloon league was also gaining steam.

After a few attempts for national prohibition the legislation was finally made into law in 1917.

This law was in place until 1933 when it was repealed. Ironically enough the law was repealed in

much the same way that it came into affect where agitation occurred within public discourse,
legitimating and cooptation occurred with the formation of groups such as Women’s organization
for national Prohibition Reform. You can actually look at the two movements in terms of inverse

cycles. After the Prohibition the reemergence and agitation did not resurface until the late

seventies and early eighties. This time at the forefront of the battle against alcohol was the

organization Mothers against Drunk Driving. This time the legislation that passed was the

minimum legal drinking age. It is hard to say where we are in the cycle now, but it seems as

though we are at the pinnacle of this temperance movement. This is evident by some of the zero
tolerance pushes that are present that seem to be popping up many different places such as local

and even national government. But on the flipside of things, we can see by publications that the

side for alcohol may be gaining speed. This is evident by attempts to repeal the minimum legal

drinking age by congressman Scot Klug of Wisconsin (Alcoholism Report). Other sentiments

have been noted for this side when the presidents 19 year old daughter was caught trying to

purchase alcohol at an Austin Restraunt. Numerous opinions were expressed for the repeal of this

law such as the one found in Wall Street Journal titled “Janna Bush is old enough to drink” (Wall

Street Journal). Now comes the time where a solution would be offered with this perspective in

mind. Unfortunately this perspective offers no solution because there will be reoccurring cycles

personal opinion. In conclusion to this perspective we can only expect to see both cycles

and laws being created and repealed as quickly as public opinion changes and as fast as our

Legislator can changes the laws of the land.

The Value Conflict is also a very applicable sociological perspective especially


the diverse composition of the American society. This theory comes into to play because of the
diverse culture that makes up America. These diverse groups of people bring to the table a wide

array of conceptions and moral convictions about alcohol consumption. David Pittman outlines
that there are essentially four difference stances that one might take. The first group that David

Pittman looks at is the group that is against any form of alcohol consumption by anyone. This is

known as abstinence culture This view is held by most Muslims, Mormons, Indians, and some

Christian groups such as Baptist ,Christian Scientist, and some Methodist. People from these

different religions and cultures make up a large part of our society and have a powerful say about

what goes on in our society. Another perspective that he explains is the permissive culture. In this

culture children are exposed to alcohol starting at a very young age. In the permissive culture it is
all right to drink but drunkenness is looked down upon. Statistics reveal that permissive cultures

such as Jewish and Italian cultures show a lower number of alcoholics. This kind of culture is

found in Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Japan and in the Jewish and Chinese populations of New

York. Yet another perspectives is an over-permissive stance. This stance is present in many

societies but is not usually accepted in its entirety . Examples of this occur in the Japanese

with the drinking of rice wine and beer. Another example of this is in Camba, Bolivia where a

celebration includes and alcoholic drink that is highly concentrated and intoxicating. The last

stance that is prevalent in the United States and other places where there are two or more beliefs

concerning alcohol consumption. This is known as the ambivalent culture. This is a culture that

neutral to the use of alcohol because they are caught between one or more views. These four

perspectives are very different and contradict each other in many ways. In a society that holds

these four different views is a hotbed for debate. This is exactly what is present in the American

society. This creates a constant struggle between these different group. Thus the natural solution
for this problem would be compromise, consensus or implication of differential power.

Finally we can look at the situation through the eyes of the Deviant Behavior perspective.

This can also go hand in hand with Social pathology and the idea of a sick social situation. The
best model of this perspective is the one which Edward Sutherland presented. From this we see

that due to the current social situation that the process of becoming a drinker is a process that

includes symbolic interactions. This is a process that is imbedded deep in our Society and is

learned in many different arenas. Three major influences that contribute to alcohol use as a

social behavior are parents, media and peer groups. We first see from a series of studies that

children that are exposed to a situation in which a parent or close relative abused alcohol are
likely to abuse alcohol. This same study showed that children that were exposed to an

environment where abstinence was practiced that they were more likely to abstain. This has been

debated because many believe that there is a biological factor that plays a role in alcohol abuse.

But similar studies were also done with children that were placed in environments with parents

that were not biologically related but that abused alcohol. This study showed the same as the

previous study. Another studied showed that children that were involved with peer groups that

drank were also more likely to drink. The last major player is the media. Some compelling

reveal the presence of alcohol is a very integral part of our society. In 1972 three hundred million

dollars were spent on alcohol advertising (Rouse). Another study revealed that on fifteen weekly

situational comedies and one hour dramas alcoholic beverages were consumed at the rate of 15.6

to one (West).These three sources are all ways in which a drinking behavior can be formed.

Now that we have discovered the world sociological perspective in relation to alcohol
abuse we can now venture into another realm that might have some of the answers to the saga of

alcohol abuse in our society. This realm is the realm of Gender. First of all we must realize the

role that gender plays in alcohol abuse and all of its surrounding problems. We only have to take
look at a few statistics to realize that men are at the root of most alcohol abuse problems. One

statistic that could sum this is up is the fact that eighty percent of alcoholics are men (Murdock)

After researching gender and the role strains that are placed on men one can see that alcohol is

another route that the man can take to fulfill his masculine role. Not only does this explain the

reason that men over consume alcohol in the first place, but it also can help explain why some of

the related problem are caused, such as why a man is four times more likely to get into a car after

drinking (MADD). Not only are men causing most of these problems their fulfillment of the

masculine role does not allow them to admit that they have a problem. So it only makes sense that

women have been at the forefront of combating the problem of alcohol abuse. This can be evident

all the way through out history, starting with the Women’s Christian Temperance movement all

way up to the present day Mother Against Drunk Driving. When we consider the solution for the

problem we should defiantly keep in mind gender. A substantial amount of alcohol abuse could be

deterred if we were able to disconnect the amount one can drink to the masculinity of ones self.

Now that we have ventured into a world of different ideas we can try to evaluate this

problem in a way in which not everyone is able or willing to do. As I stated at the very first of this

paper Alcohol Abuse is a very serious problems that leads to very many adverse affects. But as I

made my way through the paper I hope that one thing that was noticed was that not only is there a

problem but the way in which this problem is being handled is not helping and in many cases is

actually making it worse. But in terms to a solution for alcohol abuse I feel that if we take into
account the different sociological perspectives we can find a better answer to the problem. First

and foremost I think that we should clear up the issue of adulthood and the minimum legal

age. This will take the deviant label off one of the largest targeted group of drinkers. But by just

simply taking the label off will not be good enough. This is where education will be the strongest

tool. Education must start from an early age. This is necessary because as a person enters high

school or college they are put into social situations in which they will learn behaviors that can

incorporate things such as alcohol into there routine. Without the proper knowledge and

perspective they unknowingly are hooked before they are aware of their situation. This is an

extreme shift that could take place in the same manner that many of the anti-drinking policies

taken place. But in order for this to occur compromise and consensus is of the essence.

Alcohol is a fixed part of our society that has in many ways caused many adverse affects.

But the way in which the problem is currently being looked at is an extreme, emotional, and some

time irrational point of view. What is required is a perspective of sociological value in which many

different facets of the problem are considered. My intentions with this paper were to look at this

problem in such a way that a new light might be shed on the problem at hand. With this light a new

approach might be formulated to combat the problem in a less extreme way that might actually

reduce the problem and make all of those who are affected by alcohol a healthier happier person.


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Alcoholism Report. 23 (1995):4