Boston — "Don't." "Don't drink." I asked an experienced counselor what advice he would give a junior or senior in high school or a cellege student about the use (or abuse) of alcohol. "Don't. Don't drink," was his ready answer.
He went on to explain that nearly every one of the patients who come to him with a serious drinking problem admit that he is the first "expert" they have consulted who has given such advice.
He continued: "I am astounded at what physician after physician has said, done, and prescribed. Particularly with young women patients. More often than not they prescribe drugs, and then, apparently, never tell the patient to stop drinking. Ridiculous."
And a former alcoholic, who works almost exclusively with young problem drinkers, explains her strategy: "I say, 'stop for a day. You can stop for just one day. So, don't drink for a day.'"
"And then next day i tell them: 'I just want you to stop for a day.'"
I asked her: "Wouldn't you ever encourage them to drink moderately?"
she fixed a firm eye on mine and made a statement in the form of a question:
And from another counselor, this one now working full time on a college campus, but formerly an alcoholism consultant for a large industrial company:
"They come with their problems. Poor grades. Can't get along in the dorm. Girl trouble. Stealing. Money problems. I say: 'Stop drinking.'"
"They go on telling me they've got all these other problems which they claim are totally unrelated to drinking."
"I say stop. Stop drinking. And, of course, they find that if they do, they are able not only to cope with thier other problems, but to avoid much of the behavior which got them into the problems in the first place." No drinking on or off campus
And now to another environment -- a younger age group. It seems that the headmaster of an independent school met with parents at the beginning of a new school year. He explained the rules about drinking on that campus.
And then he explained that faculty and staff are asked never to offer liquor to students, despite the rare boy or girl who may be of legal drinking age.
The parents murmured with pleasure at his announcement -- just what they expected when they chose this particular school.
The headmaster continued: "While the children are students at our school, we do not want them offered liquor by other adults; we don't want them to be placed in social positions where drinking is part of the activity; we don't want them participating in cocktail parties; we don't want them to eat in dining rooms where wine and liquor are served."
Most of the parents present didn't tumble right away to what was expected of them as he continued.
"We don't serve wine and liquor in our dining rooms, even to those of legal drinking age who live and work here on campus. We don't serve it to parents when they are here."
More murmurs of approval from the parents and guardians. And then the bottom line:
"And we're asking you not to serve liquor in front of or to your children and their friends while they are students here."
A father raised his hand, was recognized, and asked, "Do you mean we shouldn't drink in front of our own children?" The headmaster indicated that the same environment at home as at school would be preferable.
Of course, no headmaster or headmistress can require parents to remove all liquor from their homes. But they can ask them to -- especially if one reason that they have chosen this particular school environment is because it's alcohol-free. A very complex problem
The Monitor has been exploring alcohol abuse and problem drinking for the 14 -to-24-year-old age group for several months. For the majority of young people in this 10-year span, drinking of alcoholic beverages is illegal as well as destructive.
We've called on staff writers as well as special correspondents to look into many aspects of alcohol abuse for this age group right across the United States.
And what we've found is a very complex problem, an intertwining, if you will, of conflicting motives and interests. For example:
A team of young swimmers trained long and hard all last summer and participated in several meets competing with youngsters in other small towns. In their league, they held the championship from the previous summer, and worked hard to retain the league cup.
They did, and the coaches and sponsors held a victory party on the recreation field adjacent to the municipal pool. Officially, no beer or wine was served, but unofficially, liquor passed from hand to hand in the parking lot.
and there you have it, the very coaches and parents who had overseen a summer of training eschewing drugs, alcohol, and nicotine do a complete turnabout and celebrate by drinking the very substances that are both physically and mentally destructive.
Those who attended the party agreed that many under-age youngsters were winked at as they did a little experimental drinking.
And the town police? Those not there participating made no effort to stop any who were there -- and drinking -- from driving home afterward.
What terrible lessons were taught those young swimmers that summer evening! Driving, drinking, and sports
Or picture this victory dinner for some suburban high school athletes. It's held in a tavern. But since the legal drinking age in that state is 20, no drinks are served at the banquet tables. Instead, time is given before the dinner starts for the bar to be open to adults, and here the toasts are given in the name of good sportsmanship.
And the police in this town? They put extra men on duty to clear the nearest intersection when the party breaks up. No effort is made by anyone to suggest that those who have drunk should not be the ones to drive home.
Or imagine this: During orientation week at a large liberal-arts college, a wine and cheese party is sponsored by the administration. And at a state college where the drinking age has been raised to 19, the dean of students asks that BYOB (bring your own bottle) take effect, as the school can no longer provide free kegs of beer.
In the Monitor's exploration of drinking among teen-agers and young adults, we found no instances where public or private school authorities at the elementary or secondary school level offered or provided alcohol for students.
And we discovered that in community after community, parents and teachers have combined to stop out-of-school drinking parties and to provide alternative activities for young people who argue that they drink because "they have nothing else to do."
But we heard, too, of open houses where the adults make themselves scarce and teen-agers are given free access to "all the beer they can drink." Some colleges actually serve liquor
While most secondary school authorities make every effort to keep alcoholic beverages out of their schools and away from their athletic events, the same cannot be said of college authorities.
We've learned that beer is served in many student unions; that college authorities provide kegs of beer alongside kegs of fresh cider. And from students we hear of gin parties in the dorm, with no attention paid to the age of those who buy their drinks from the bar set up in Room 212.
Ivy League colleges boast of mixed drinks served at "tailgate" parties, and first-year students tell of their constant harassment by fellow students if they choose to be among the few who do not drink.
These "goody-two-shoes" students explain, as well, that their counselors, deans, tutors, and professors afford them little support to not "go along with the crowd and drink."
As one resisting junior put it: "As far as my frat brothers were concerned, it was a rite of passage, and they didn't provide me any support for not getting -- at least once -- roaring drunk."
Monitor reporters have asked: "Why is it that college authorities don't punish the drinkers?" We're told that the problem stems from a very high alcoholism rate (higher than the national average) among faculty and staff in US colleges and universities.
Monitor reporters have asked: "Why is it that the police don't arrest and remove driver's licenses from known drinkers? Why don't they patrol roadhouses, bars, private parties, and college residences, requiring all who drive away from them to take a breath test?"
We're told that off-duty policemen drink and drive -- and that should they begin arresting all known drinking drivers, and curtailing their driving privileges for a period of time, the police would be afraid of losing their jobs.
Yet directors of highway safety in statehouses coast to coast agree that the majority of highway accidents, particularly for the age range 14 to 24, are alcohol-related. Focus on the individual, not the bottle
And in many states it is these state officials who often lead the way in calling for alcohol education programs, for better policing, and for removal of liquor licenses when under-age youngsters are knowingly served.
The trend in the past has been to try to shock young drivers with tales of drunken-driving fatalities and wit alcohol education programs describing the drugging effects of booze.
Today, the trend is toward reinforcing the individual, toward making him feel responsible for his behavior and for his responsibility to his community. "After all," one state director of alcohol education explained, "the bottle isn't at fault; it's the drinker."
But what everyone who has seen a healing of alcoholism agrees with is the fact that we all need help and support. From our peers, of course, but also from those whom we see as leaders; from those in authority; from those who care enough to care about us.
As a reformed alcoholic put it: "You drink because you're lonely. I don't care whatever other excuse an alcoholic gives you for drinking -- the real reason is a feeling of loneliness.
"And you don't cure yourself alone -- you cure yourself with the help of everyone you know, love, and admire."
". . . with the help of everyone you know, love, and admire."