I'm A Controlled Alcoholic

by Steve Mason
Reprinted from The Oracle, 12/99

We make some of our greatest gains when we see old things in new ways.

The other day I was having lunch with a psychologist friend who works with a Drug Rehabilitation agency. I had just ordered my usual 86-proof first course when my friend asked if I always drank in the middle of the day. Because I usually do, she concluded that I was a "controlled alcoholic."

Where other people might be off-put by such a diagnosis, I fully agreed. I then went on to point out that I am also a controlled eater and a controlled spender and a controlled lover and a ... well ... you get the idea. In fact, I am controlled in most areas of life and that's the point I want to make today.

Too many politicians and the experts who advise them seem to have lost sight of the fact that it's not so much what you do as how you do it. Allow me to explain. One person can tell a sexy joke in mixed company to the delight of everyone present. Someone else, telling the same story but using a string of four-letter words, would succeed only in embarrassing and/or offending the group. The trick is to learn to control your behavior to suit the situation.

I don't have eight drinks at lunch ... or at any other time for that matter ... because that would be excessive. I'd get sick at the very least. I also don't have eight desserts or eight maxed-out credit cards or eight girlfriends. So, yes, I am a controlled whatever you fill in the blank.

Now why is this a concept that's so very difficult to understand? During the era of Prohibition, the entire nation was deprived of alcohol because a few (roughly 15% of the population) could not control their behavior. Our current War on Drugs is an equally disastrous, doomed attempt at legislating behavior. It is based on the same erroneous reasoning. A relatively small portion of people have never learned personal restraint. They must rely on their parents when they're younger, and the government when they're older, to keep them in line. The oh-so-obvious difference between "use" and "abuse" gets lost in the shuffle.

In point of fact, drug use is not the same as drug abuse anymore than enjoying one's food is the same as eating to excess and winding up a 400-pound basket case. An aspirin or two for a headache, an injection for a root canal, an amphetamine before a carrier landing after a combat flight, are not examples of abuse. Indeed, all will help to get the individual over the sometimes rocky road of life.

Of course, I run into all kinds of arguments when I say such things. Mostly, I have found that these come either from those with no experience or from those with negative experience.

Let's get back to the subject of Prohibition. There were those who, way back then, never touched a drop but just knew that a shot of alcohol would bring about all kinds of drooling, degenerate behavior. And then there were those who either drank a quart a day or knew someone who drank a quart a day. They were always fully armed with a firsthand account of the damage alcohol could do. Those who drank in moderation and could attest to the positive effects of the use of alcohol on most of the population would be drowned out by the emotional rants of those who suffered from its abuse.

The media doesn't care about the masses of people who enjoy their glass of wine with dinner because it's far too ordinary an occurrence. Far better to feature the horrible results of the clown who downed fourteen 6-packs and then took out a school bus with his semi... pictures at 11:00!

The truth is, regardless of what the fellow running for office says, it's impossible to protect everybody from everything. There will always be those who behave responsibly and those who don't - one's drug of choice not withstanding.

The danger is not so much in what people do as in how they do it. Drug abuse is life abuse ... but so are all forms of abuse. People abuse religion when they use it to exterminate their neighbors. They abuse education when they use it to teach pseudoscience. They abuse credit when they use it to buy a $300 dinner. Should we outlaw credit... dinner... how about plastic?

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