09 June 2008

Denial. Or why people actually drink.

So I'm watching Four Corners and it's all about a topic that is quite big in Australia at the moment – teenage binge drinking.

And there was all this focus on reasons why people drink, but in reality, no one really wanted to say why people do. And I just don't get this, because in the fight to see if people will change their drinking (and, yes, drug taking) habits, no one, but no one is seeing the elephant in the middle of the room.

And I don't get this, because at the end of the day, I can tell you right now that the reason that most people drink heavily, or take drugs isn't what everyone tells me. It's not because of peer pressure, or depression, or school or work pressure. In fact, the more I read this, the more I get the impression that a complete denial of reality is in place.

Sure, these have an impact, and might be the cause in a minority of cases, but let's be honest here: Teenage piss-ups wouldn't occur if there wasn't a more fundamental reason for drinking. Orientation weeks at universities wouldn't be the all round bacchanalia that they are if people didn't have what is actually a very strong basic reason for heavy drinking or drug taking.

So what is it that stops the media, government departments, celebrity drug abusers and alcoholics from saying that the real reason they binged on drugs and alcohol is that it's purely and simply fun?

During the mid nineties, I went through a brief patch of going to rave parties with a mate of mine. It wasn't long before I realised that if you weren't off your tits at these, they were extremely boring. Unless you were really into the music. In which case, didn't it make more sense to not be taking drugs at these parties?

It did look for a long time during this period that suddenly someone was going to be honest and say exactly the reason why people went to these and got so incredibly munted. And I waited and waited and still no one came out and said, “I take e because it's fun.” And then the cult of the celebrity DJ unexpectedly fell over and rave parties either went back underground again, or became theme nights at clubs.

During this time, people still drank to excess, just like times past, and certainly like things will continue to be. Russell Crowe was busted for a couple of drunken incidents. But you know, during this period, if anyone could come out and say, “I drink heaps because it's fun,” it would have been Crowe. Instead, he didn't do it. He told interviewers not to ask him the hard questions, and curried favour with journos who might have viewed him in a more sympathetic light.

Sadly, Crowe was not going to be the pioneering celeb who was unrepentently hedonistic. Was he muzzled?

So what is it that prevents anyone from calling a spade a spade? Why can't anyone actually say publicly that they drink heavily because it's fun?

Here are some of the reasons that I came up with:

  • The merest hint that drinking or drug taking is “fun” might be seized upon by a core group of drinkers as an excuse to engage in this type of activity. Exactly who this core group is never specified, nor is the exact level of influence they might have upon fellow drinkers or drug takers.
  • Sports stars are prevented from admitting the fun part because it might be seen to go against the prevailing opinion that, just like the one that tells us that diets rich in anti-oxidants will prevent cancer, immunodeficiencies and global warming, sports stars must be seen to be god-like role models and therefore must criticise drinking and drug taking at all times.
  • Celebrities can't ever be seen to ever be supporting this sort of thing. Unlike sports stars, they can't rely on less subjective criteria of talent such as sports results. Therefore, if they're on the nose with the media, and by extension the general public, that's it for their careers.
  • Government departments. Really, they're just as subject to spin doctoring and propaganda as corporations. In fact, it was a government minister who refined modern use of “propaganda”.
  • Charities that deal with the unsavoury parts of drug and alcohol use. Quite a lot of them are wowser organisations. Let's look at the list: Salvation Army – Christian sect that explicitly supports teetotallism. Alcohol rehab centres – they usually only have a little bit of money so any extra drinkers are likely to make their existences tough. Alcoholics Anonymous – what do you expect from a group that likes to maintain that everyone is an alcoholic?
  • The media likes to target anyone with drug or alcohol problems. If society suddenly were to be a little more liberal minded towards drugs and alcohol the media might have to divert some of its resources towards things like, gasp, the news.

What would be really good would be if people could suddenly be honest about why they get stonkered. Unfortunately, it's not going to happen – it would wipe out an enormous industry.

And yeah, there are bad things that happen to people who over-imbibe. But none of this is really going to make a scrap of difference to your usual participant in a teenage piss-up. They know. So why not just be honest and acknowledge that this stuff is fun? Then maybe we might be on the way to finding a solution.

Of course, this might send out "the wrong message". Well we've tried the other messages. They're working fine, obviously.


Indefensible said...

Very well said, Dikkii. I also like the Obama-esque way you alluded to past drug use, yet defused it as an issue. Nicely played. I will be voting for you when you run for public office some day.

Dikkii said...

Thank you Indefensible.

Sadly, I'm going to have to leave my public office ambitions at "lobbyist" level - I suspect that I have too many skeletons in my warehouse to make such an exercise worthwhile.

Greg said...

It's an interesting question: why is the mainstream media forbidden from discussing the (putative) reason for drug use (including alcohol)?

You never see a shot of drunken teens out the front of a suburban nightclub presaged with a voice-over "These young people are really enjoying themselves and having lots of fun." In fact, in the present environment, that would be as close to a public blasphemy as you could imagine.

Sure, a Bill Hicks or an Irvine Welsh can speak frankly on the topic, but we won't be seeing that sort of honesty in any Government messages.

I attributed this mealy-mouthed sanctimonious failure to the fact that the Howard Government asked the Salvation Army to run its drugs policy. Now, with a slightly-less conservative Christian politician in charge, we may see a shift.

As long as the portrayal of drug (and alcohol) use is disconnected from young people's experiences, any messages of temperance will be lost.

Dikkii said...

I'd go one step further Greg.

Teenagers aren't stupid. They hear the current message of "Drinking heavily is not fun" and think, "That's a filthy rotten lie."

So, of course, you put any other negative message in front of them, and they're going to have their doubts, not matter how accurate these other messages are.

Anonymous said...

Ding ding ding! We have a winner!

Yes, this is exactly the reason why the current approach to drink / drugs education is a horrible failure. If you can't admit the most obvious and fundamental fact about the issue, namely that people get muntered because it's fun, then no-one is going to listen to a word you say.

Now, why no-one will admit that is a trickier question. I think it's just become one of those unquestioned political assumptions that you're supposed to give lip-service to in order to get taken seriously - like all the "tough on crime" bollocks. Drug-users are the modern scapegoats (in the original sense of the term). Even though many people know, deep down, that they're not the root of the problem, the maintenance of social cohesion is regarded (by the political classes) as more important than piffling little matters like truth or justice.

Dikkii said...

G'day Dunc.

Yes, "why" is a good question. I suspect that this is one of those "inconvenient truths" that the population hates to hear.

Even though many people know, deep down, that they're not the root of the problem, the maintenance of social cohesion is regarded (by the political classes) as more important than piffling little matters like truth or justice.

My thoughts exactly.

Greg said...

Now that three glasses of wine "officially" constitutes a binge drinking session, can Government credibility on this question ever be restored?

Dikkii said...

No Greg, I think we have a problem. This qualifies as the silliest anti-alcohol message ever.

Greg said...

Sadly, such blatant silliness just makes it a whole lot easier for people to entirely disregard unwelcome yet genuine health messages.

Interesting quote from Professor Haber:

"I think that several members on that committee, as individual people, don't see the value in drinking, and don't see the social value in drinking for other people."

Taking a bigger picture, maybe it's a Good Thing for society at large to appreciate that our governments and the medical lobby are a poor source of credible information.

Dikkii said...

And people wonder why actual binge drinking exists. This just proves my point: Who's going to take this message seriously?

More to the point, people simply aren't going to listen to a bunch of wowsers. They're going to think: OK if alcohol is such a problem, why isn't it illegal?

Talk about mixed messages.

Bronze Dog said...

I can see how it'd be easy for someone to miss something so obvious, but I'm a teetotaler primarily because I don't see the fun in it. Got no problem with people who can drink responsibly.

Dikkii said...

BD, everyone I know who is a teetotaller (admittedly, not many) is usually that way because they either never liked the taste of alcoholic beverages, or never found being out of it that much fun. And while I support drinking in moderation, I admit to being aware of the fun that a night on the piss can bring to those who enjoy it.

That said, like most people, I don’t enjoy hangovers very much.

I don’t know anyone who is a teetotaller for wowser/religious/health/rehab reasons