Social pressure to abuse drugs

Drinking rituals lead to binge drinking. That’s a Bad Thing. It’s worse when they invade the workplace, not least when that workplace is the U.S. Senate.

So it turns out that Hillary Clinton and John McCain bonded over a vodka-drinking contest. It’s hard to argue with Clinton’s tactics in terms of making friends across the aisle. But drinking contests mean binge drinking, and binge drinking, even occasionally, is a thoroughly bad idea. (Alcohol in large does is toxic to just about every tissue in the body, especially the brain.) So by having a drinking contest, and bragging about it, Clinton and McCain are encouraging drug abuse: in particular, a form of drug abuse more highly prevalent, among teenagers as well as adults, than the abuse of all the illicit drugs combined.

There’s a deeper point here, though. When heavy drinking is used for bonding, there’s pressure on those who don’t like to get drunk to do so anyway. Your kid’s DARE program calls it “peer pressure.” It’s a Bad Thing.

Footnote And don’t miss the obvious feminist point here: Clinton needed to prove herself as “one of the boys.”

Hat tip: Atrios, in the course of making a completely different point about the media’s love affair with a dimwitted form of bipartisanship.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

15 thoughts on “Social pressure to abuse drugs”

  1. There's another point as well. Abuse of alcohol by politicians is considered good clean fun and a nice human interest story. On the other hand, responsible use of drugs that are safer than alcohol is rewarded with prison time and/or mandatory treatment.

  2. another point. Some people can only bond, or only be bonded with during spells of extreme inebriation.

  3. Another point. Ick. The newfound attraction of binge drinking is a development that really astounds me. From girls being raped because they were too inebriated to know what they were doing, to individuals dying of alcohol poisoning, to a medical student (!!) disappearing on his way home from a night of a bar hopping shot chasing binge, I don't see how anyone can say anything good about spending one's leisure time in this manner let alone brag about it.

  4. One good thing about binge-drinking politicians:
    Sometimes they say things they think they shouldn't be saying.
    Like the truth.

  5. Sometimes they say things they think they shouldn't be saying.
    Like the truth
    Or, more specifically, their true opinions.

  6. I thought all it took to get the truth out of a politician was hanger steak and risotto.

  7. A lot of the people (starting with Prof. Kleiman) seem to be confusing tastes and values. Just because you don't like binge drinking, doesn't make it a Bad Thing. The nation was founded, and the West was won, and the Nazis were defeated, and The Sound and the Fury and The Great Gatsby were written, by people who engaged in binge drinking.

  8. Of course there is no evidence my sons' D.A.R.E. programs would have been the slightest bit effective. That's why I kept them out of it. That plus I have a problem with police officers indoctrinating sixth graders in school.
    This is after all a reality-based world.

  9. I don't suppose you really want to go back to the days when workers were paid in corn whiskey and the rest of their families starved. This is why John Wesley started the temperance movement.
    But I will give a binge drinking pass to tormented geniuses who need vast quantities of liquor to keep their inner demons in check long enough to make significant literary and artistic contributions to the world at large. However, I must note that F. Scott Fitzgerald's true binging occurred after, not before, he wrote his literary masterpiece. Indeed, one might say that he turned to alcohol because he was having a tough time replicating his early success. Not to mention that his home life was a bit troubled.

  10. Also note that Eugene O'Neill's major works post dated his binge drinking and were made possible by a wife who imposed domestic order on his life with an iron fist.

  11. Also what do we mean by "binge drinking"? Cause some people define it as 4-5 drinks. Which is insane.

  12. For the bluenosed among us who view the use and abuse of alcohol in black and white terms, I'll remind you of Homer Simpson's famous toast: "To alcohol, the cause of–and solution to–all life's problems.

  13. J. Donne, it depends on how big you are! But for me, binge drinking is the continuous drinking of hard alcohol over a relatively short period of time. You might binge drink all day, but four or five drinks per day is not binge drinking — four or five in less than an hour probably is unless you are really big or you are Winston Churchill.
    The disappearing medical student went to something like four bars in the space of four hours and imbibed more than 15 shots of hard liquor. That's more than 20 ounces of high octane stuff.
    People's definitions do differ. When Natalie Wood drowned, her husband told the police she had only a moderate amount of liquor during the evening — which turned out to be 11 glasses of wine, or close to two bottles. I've never had that much wine in a single week and I classify myself as a moderate drinker.

  14. I wonder if politicians have a higher than average rate of alcohol problems? I wouldn't be surprised considering how many of them (Kennedys, Bush and Cheney for example) have been busted for DUI over the years.

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