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Alcohol: Freedom, Responsibility and Trust

Freedom to do as you chose ends when it begins to affect the freedoms of others.

Somebody out there could have prevented this. Somebody could have taken his keys, disconnected his alternator, or flattened his tires. Somebody should have had the guts to tell that idiot that it was not going to be alright, since he was too preoccupied with his own "freedom" to care. Now it's too late.

I am saddened by the loss of Walton County Sherriff's Lt. Darren Hester and the severe injury of his wife Jamie as I write this. I am angered beyond words that he met his demise because of a DUI driver. I am annoyed that just beneath the Patch story about the tragedy is a happy story about a beer festival. The State Patrol hasn't released the results of the driver's blood-alcohol content tests or the results of the other drugs he was tested for. Still, "Yay, beer!" doesn't sit real well with me at this moment and it just seems wrong to have those headlines so close together.

Alcohol. It's the most popular mind-altering drug on the planet. Involved in roughly half of all fatal accidents in the country. Assessable. Socially acceptable. Legal.

It should be legal, just like firearms. But why do people own firearms? I think it is safe to say that every gun owner will agree that personal protection is the main reason. Most will agree that the bad guys shouldn't be the only ones with the guns. Here's the underlying truth behind that statement: We arm ourselves against other people who have guns. We do not trust everyone out there with a firearm to not abuse that right. The right to bear arms does NOT include the right to impede the freedom of others while brandishing your weapon.

This is true of alcohol, as much or more so. I hear a lot about the freedom of alcohol; I hear very little about the responsibility of it. Your judgement is impaired when you drink. You are unable to make sound descisions on the most basic of things, including but not limited to: driving, parenting, walking, ability to determine the need for breath mints or gauge the attractiveness of members of the opposite gender from across the bar.

Did I just call you a bad parent because you drink? No, I said you're a lousy parent while you're drinking. Meant it, too. The statistics are staggering and the childhood memories don't lie.

So "responsable" drinking is nothing of the sort. There is certainly merit in moderation, but there is nothing responsable about rendering yourself useless with a mind-altering drug. It is simply removing yourself from any situation where someone might actually have to depend on you.

But, hey...if that's your thing, then by all means do your thing. Just try to do it in a manner that doesn't affect others. You want to drink yourself stupid, in the confines of your own home, or in some bar? Knock yourself out, but don't pretend that your decision to do so doesn't affect others around you. Indirectly or directly, one person's drinking will affect another person's life. It could be the people you should hold most dear, or some guy out for a ride with his wife. You can limit these impacts on others, but you simply cannot deny they exist.

When people kind of hold their nose to issues of "alcohol freedom," it isn't always about religion. In fact, it rarely is. It's just easy to give that label because this is a difficult positition to articulate. It's really about trust, or lack thereof. I do not trust drinkers to make good decisions, ones that don't affect others. Why should I? That this is a legitimate concern is self-evident and not debatable. There are far too many broken homes, shattered dreams and dead motorists to suggest otherwise.

Trust is not given lightly. Saying you can trust someone to practice moderation is not the same as trusting all. Drinkers as a demographic have failed miserably to earn that trust. Until there are less poor decisions made and less innocent people affected by them, beer drinkers, accept and deal with this truth. You want trust?

EARN IT

Jeffrey Allen September 28, 2011 at 02:03 AM
Hoo, boy did I kick up a hornets nest with this one. I stand by the sentiments in this article, but one sentence needs clarification. When i said "there is merit in moderation", i meant that. Where that point got lost is "drinking in front of your kids makes you a lousy parent" I want to make clear, as i apparently failed to do initially, that should read "getting drunk" in front of your kids. There is a difference between having a class of wine at a family dinner and just getting wasted. I recognize that fact and should have made that more clear. I hope this does not detract from the original point i was trying to make , namely that I don't like it when someone's drinking negatively impacts others, and that i think it happens all too often. Thank you.
Gail Lane September 28, 2011 at 03:31 PM
Jeff, As the organizer of the Grayson Blues & Brews, I really appreciate that you made that distinction and once you became aware, acknowledged the measures we took to make sure our attendees not only had a good time, but made their way safely home. As an journalist, I also understand that this is YOUR opinion; I understand why you take this stance and quite honestly, it is a personal opinion piece. No need to back down if you feel strongly about something. But then again, as you've experienced, sometimes there's going to be some heat! (Gee ... ya think?) : ) Thanks for clarifying your issue here, on Facebook, and with personal phone calls that I know you have made.
Patty Burgess September 28, 2011 at 04:02 PM
Jeff, thanks for clarifying the statement about drinking and parenting. I absolutely agree with the basic premise of the article. Trusting people to always do the right thing isn't easily given. Alcohol abuse, not alcohol use, is the problem. You have my deepest sympathies on the loss of your friend and my heartfelt prayers for the recovery of his wife.
Karsten Torch November 30, 2011 at 03:16 PM
Jeff, thanks for your piece, I appreciate somebody that stands up and says what they feel, regardless of whether or not people are going to agree with it. And for the record, I'm with you on it. I have no problem with drinking socially or even with having the occasional drink in the evening, but drinking just to get torn up is a bit foreign to my way of thinking, probably has something to do with the fact that I don't do it just because I don't enjoy it. But, I have no moral issues with drinking. And you're right, if you get drunk regularly in front of your children and make it so you're undependable at times when you shouldn't be, then you're a bad parent and you need to reorganize your priorities. I also find issues with the fact that we in this country are so concerned with image and trying to look like we're addressing problems when we actually have no interest in doing so. We want to limit access to alcohol and make sure underage people don't get near the stuff, that we just succeed in making it more attractive (look up Reactance Theory). We also don't enforce our laws associated with activities such as drunk driving. Pretty much a slap on the wrist, sometimes even less of an effect than that if the person is one of good financial resources.
Karsten Torch November 30, 2011 at 03:20 PM
(Sorry, not enough space to respond adequately in one fell swoop) And if you drive drunk, this is no different than taking a loaded firearm and firing into a crowd of people - whether or not you kill somebody was just plain luck. And if you do drive drunk and kill somebody, this is premeditated murder as far and I'm concerned. You knew the risks when your dumb self got into the car. People should be able to exercise personal responsibility when they drink. So, in short, I agree wholeheartedly with Jeff. Alcohol is not evil. The end result of how it's treated, like anything else in this world, determines the intent. I'm all for drinking, drinking on Sundays, and being able to buy alcohol in convenient locales without having to drive for 40 minutes. Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms should be an aisle in a grocery store, not a government agency. BUT, exercise and common sense should be taken.....

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