by ALCAP | Wednesday, August 20, 2014
I recently had the opportunity to attend a public meeting hosted by local leaders who were wanting to address the serious alcohol and drug problems among students in their community. The event was almost three hours in length and the room (held at a local church in a "gymnatorium") was packed with parents and concerned citizens. The sponsors of the event had to bring in additional chairs due to the large and unexpected crowd.
The program was well-organized and began with a drug-testing professional who interviewed a young athlete that had become addicted to opiate-based pain medications while a student at the local high school. That young man admitted he is still battling that addiction (courageously, I might add) five years after he graduated from high school and, as he put it, it will be a life-long battle. In addition, there was a clinical family psychologist who gave a lengthy, but excellent presentation dealing with the issue of alcohol and drug use. In fact, much of what he presented is contained in the American Character Builders kits on alcohol and other drugs. (For more information on the American Character Builders kits, visit www.AmericanCharacterBuilders.org.)
The event concluded with a testimony from a local family whose son died a few years ago due to a heroine overdose while also intoxicated by alcohol. It was a story that is all too familiar and it is our burden for these families and individuals (especially, students and children) that motivates ALCAP and American Character Builders to do all that we do to halt (or, at least, slow) the expansion of alcohol and drugs in our culture.
What was most interesting to me about this evening was the fact that the mayor of this city was in attendance and I had the opportunity to visit with him briefly before the program began. It was not my first contact with this mayor. He and I had spoken at a public hearing in the House Tourism and Economic Development Committee of the Alabama Legislature earlier this year. The public hearing was on a bill that would have legalized several "entertainment districts" within this mayor's city if it had passed. The mayor and I were on opposite sides of the issue. I sought to stop passage of the bill which would allow people to carry open containers of alcoholic beverages throughout each designated entertainment district. The mayor argued that these entertainment districts would bring financial benefits to his city, in spite of the added positioning of police officers within each district and other social costs (huge costs that most public officials conveniently ignore).
Now, here we were attending a meeting of parents and concerned citizens in his city who are appalled at the alcohol and drug problems they see in the middle and high schools within their community. The mayor and, probably, most of the individuals in that room that night, do not see the correlation between the free flow of alcohol in the name of "economic development" and the growing problem of underage drinking and drug use by students.
The psychologist that spoke that night rightly explained that the reason students often start using alcohol and sometimes advance to harder drugs is because adults (sometimes their parents, elected officials, business men and women, the alcohol industry and our culture in general) act as though alcohol is fun and even necessary in order for someone to have a good time. The culture calls these areas where patrons can go from bar-to-bar, drinking more and more alcohol as the evening passes, often getting into fights or passing out on the curbs, "entertainment districts." They even acknowledge that alcohol poses problems because they hire additional police officers in order to manage the problems. Advertisers produce ads that show people drinking and having a "good time" without ever showing the "dark side" of alcohol (the broken homes, lost wages, domestic violence, suicides, automobile accidents and other such images). Businesses and conference planners have come to believe they cannot host an event without providing free drinks or a cash bar. Movie theaters are starting to offer alcoholic beverage sales in their lobbies and some college sporting venues are beginning to add beer sales in their stadiums and/or coliseums. Even department stores and hair salons have started offering free alcoholic beverages to their patrons.
Apparently, six days of alcohol sales are not enough, either. Every year at the Alabama Legislature, local representatives and senators introduce legislation to allow for the sale of alcoholic beverages seven days a week within their legislative districts (usually at the urging of county and city officials). In addition to more days and more locations for the sale of alcoholic beverages, legislators are continual pressured to change the laws to allow for things such as more alcohol per container and larger containers, and the production of alcoholic beverages within one's own home.
One state senator, Sen. Arthur Orr, has announced plans to introduce legislation in next year's Legislative Session to privatize liquor sales in Alabama. While Sen. Orr is a good man and usually stands on the "right side" of the issues that are important to ALCAP and most of the churches in Alabama, his bill, if passed and if it has the same results experienced by other states that have made the change from being "control states" to "privatized states," will result in liquor being sold in more locations for longer hours, and with increased advertising. Rather than leave in place the time-tested controls established after the repeal of Prohibition in the 1930s with the formation of the Alabama Alcohol Beverage Control Board, this legislation, if it passes, will probably add to the cost of alcohol-related problems in Alabama in the future. These costs will be far greater than any savings that might come to Alabama by privatizing. Also, studies show that the revenues that are currently coming to the state by controlling liquor sales will decline dramatically. This plan is a "lose-lose" proposition, both fiscally and socially, for Alabama citizens.
In addition to all of this, there is a nationwide push to legalize other drugs, such as marijuana. And we wonder why communities are having alcohol and drug problems in their schools!
This local community that hosted this event (and is now planning small, in-home discussion groups as a follow-up) is to be commended for acknowledging and taking positive steps to try and curb the growing alcohol and drug problems among students in their community. Even the mayor, while pushing for "entertainment districts" in his city, is to be commended for being supportive and trying to help promote this initiative. However, I want to challenge this city, as well as other cities and communities, to see the correlation between increased alcohol sales (and availability) and the "out-of-control" growth of alcohol and drug use by students. I want to challenge community leaders to see that the more alcohol is deregulated, the more social problems will arise.
I, also, want to encourage churches to, again, lead the fight to restrict alcohol sales in their communities. There was a time when churches of all denominations rallied together to oppose the expansion of alcohol by preaching against its use and the long list of dangers that alcohol poses to families and individuals. It is time that parents, teachers, ministers and public officials show our students that alcohol and drugs are not necessary in order to enjoy life, or even to cope with the struggles of life.