Thursday, May 10, 2007

Alcohol, the National Hypocrisy

The government has heavily regulated and even withdrawn approval for many drugs because of the potential harm they can cause, even when they have a real medical benefit. However, despite the number of people who are hurt and die every year as a direct result of alcohol consumption, the government does not regulate it at all. That we Americans permit this is disgraceful and hypocritical.

Many people die every year as a result of alcohol. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that in 2001, the United States had 75,766 alcohol-attributable deaths (http://apps.nccd.cdc.gov/ardi/Homepage.aspx). The causes of these deaths varied from drunk driving to liver disease. But sadly, many of these deaths were innocent people including children who suffered because others had been under the influence of alcohol.

These figures don't take into account the number of people who suffer alcohol-attributable disease, injury, or abuse. For example, studies indicate thousands are children are born every year with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), a “a set of birth defects caused by maternal consumption of alcohol during pregnancy.” According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “Overall, the available literature points to a prevalence rate of FAS of 0.5 to 2 cases per 1,000 births in the United States during the 1980s and 1990s” (http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh25-3/159-167.htm). Approximately 4,000,000 live births were registered in the United States in 1994 (http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/statab/t941x01.pdf). Using the estimates above, between 2,000 and 8,000 babies are born every year with FAS. Because of alcohol, these innocent children suffer from “deficits in general intellectual functioning, ... difficulties with learning, memory, attention, and problem solving as well as problems with mental health and social interactions” (NIH).

The U.S. Government regulates medications because of their potential harm to individuals. As a result, drugs are subjected to heavy testing to ensure an acceptable degree of safety before they are permitted to be sold. Even then, prescription drugs cannot be purchased without a prescription from a licensed physician who has verified that an individual can safely take the medication. In addition, the physician must tell the patient how much they can take and in what intervals.

In extreme cases where a drug has proven to be more dangerous than originally thought, the government has withdrawn its approval for the sale of the drug. In most cases, few people had to die before approval was withdrawn. Take Propulsid, for instance. This medication was approved for the treatment of severe nighttime heartburn in 1993. By 1999, the government decided to withdraw approval for Propulsid because it had been linked to the deaths of 80 people during that six-year period. (http://www.webmd.com/content/article/23/1728_56592)

While Propulsid provided a medical benefit to many people who took it, the drug was taken off the market because a small number faced a higher risk of death or illness. Despite the fact that alcohol plays a direct roll in the deaths of far more people than withdrawn drugs had, the federal government continues to permit its sale and distribution. Herein lies the hypocrisy. We won't tolerate something harming innocent people unless that something is desirable to ourselves. We Americans tolerate this hypocrisy because so many people don't want to give up alcohol with its non-medicinal, mood-altering benefits. Worse, most Americans ignore what alcohol does to the innocent and the rest of society so that they won't have to face this hypocrisy. Those who do face it use arguments of moderation or rights to deflect the argument away from those who suffer, pay, and die because of alcohol.

I am not arguing for a complete ban. We don't have the will to uphold it, and too many people would disobey the law anyway. Rather, I argue that the government must step in and regulate alcohol like it does other drugs in order to protect the the population, both users and innocent alike.

The Lord's warning in Doctrine and Covenants 89 is relevant today. We as a people are weak in protecting ourselves from alcohol; Satan knows this and is working hard to use it to bring us further into bondage. Of course, the best solution is to avoid alcohol and to encourage others to use their agency abstain from it. But given that alcohol is addictive and mood altering, and given that Satan is working hard to trap people with it, I recommend that the federal government treat it the same way it does other drugs in order to protect those who use it and the innocent.

13 comments:

shiningcity said...

Very thought-provoking--and sad. The deaths from drunk drivers are heart-breaking enough without even taking into account the children who are beaten or verbally abused by alcoholic parents, or the lives ruined by Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

Our society would be safer and healthier if we did nothing else than even treat alcohol producing companies like we did tobacco companies-- charging them billions and using that to fund public education about the risks and dangers. But we don't even do that. We hear ad nauseam here in Utah about the dangers of smoking while there is a deafening silence about alcohol abuse.

I'd never thought about the idea of government regulation of alcohol. I like the idea. It makes sense. It IS an outrage there isn't more outrage about alcohol abuse.

Eric Nielson said...

Was this not attempted once?

TylerD said...

Yes, it was banned once--the great Prohibition--but I'm not calling for that. It makes sense to ban alcohol completely because of its potential for harm, but that didn't work, and too many people would not obey that law.

Instead, I recommend a compromise. I'm suggesting alcohol be regulated by the government. I don't know what form regulation would take, but something more should be done. The Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms, yet government heavily regulates what kind of guns can be owned and who can own them. Perhaps we do the same with alcohol: clamp down on the type of alcohol that's permitted (e.g., drinks with lower alcohol content only) and who can purchase it. For example, perhaps we could have a national database of people who have been convicted of drunk driving or domestic violence, and anytime someone purchased alcohol, their names would be run through the database. If we permit such oversight for a Constitutionally protected right (to bear arms), then certainly we should be OK with equal oversight for the purchase of alcohol.

Jeff G said...

Okay, so why can't the essential point to the post be repeated, only with all references to using alcohol replaced replaced with references to using automobiles, boats, airplanes, medicine (both pharmaceutical as well as doctors) bungee jumping, guns, poisonous substances of all kinds, etc.? Shouldn't, by your reasoning, ALL these things be severely regulated by the government since they are "hypocritical"?

Yes, some of these things are banned to some extent, but driving is simply limited by age, just as alcohol. Of course the obvious reply to such a question is that all these other things provide benefits as well. This is to assume, however, that alcohol provides no benefits, something which is clearly not true. Why do you think so many people drink, if there are absolutely NO benefits at all?

I guess the obvious response to why the government shouldn't regulate alcohol is that the government should have bigger and better problems to worry about. We don't need big brother to micromanage every thing we do.

a guy said...

The sale of alcoholic beverages is already regulated by the government, specifically by the A.T.F.

TylerD said...

Jeff said:

Okay, so why can't the essential point to the post be repeated, only with all references to using alcohol replaced replaced with references to using automobiles, boats, airplanes, medicine (both pharmaceutical as well as doctors) bungee jumping, guns, poisonous substances of all kinds, etc.?

Jeff, your argument not only fails to support your point, but it actually proves mine. I argue that the government should regulate those activities which do or have the potential to result in many deaths and injuries, particularly to innocent people. Driving, air travel, guns, and legal drugs all fall in that category, and all are heavily regulated. Alcohol also falls in that category, yet it's not nearly as heavily regulated. We permit that as a society because we like how alcohol makes us feel. Therein lies the hypocrisy.

You said that if we were to regulate alcohol, we should regulate prescription drugs. Well, I argued for greater regulation of alcohol by comparing it specifically to prescription drugs, just as you suggest. Because alcohol is a drug that has very dangerous effects on the user, and because it causes so much death and suffering just like other drugs that are highly regulated or even taken off the market, I'm arguing that the government should more heavily regulate its distribution.

Your logic also fails with your other comparisons. Those comparisons which result in or have the potential to result in many deaths and injuries every year to participants as well innocent bystanders ARE heavily regulated by the government. Those comparisons which don't cause many deaths nor have the potential to, particularly to innocent bystanders, are not regulated and should not be.

You mentioned airplanes. They are heavily regulated. Can anyone fly them? No. You must have a pilot's license which is not easy to acquire. To fly commercial jets, the government requires even more before it permits a person to pilot them. In addition, the government highly regulates what can be flown. If you want to build a plane, there are strict regulations.

Also consider driving since you mentioned that too. Nobody can drive without a permit or a license. Getting that license requires driving and written tests. The government also has very strict regulations street laws that govern things like speed, direction of travel, stop lights, etc. The government also heavily regulates how cars are built. To protect occupants, the government requires many safety devices at a substantial additional cost.

You also mentioned guns. You'll see in my comment above that I use guns as an example to support greater regulation of alcohol.

Your example of bungee jumping doesn't support your argument. Yes, it's potentially dangerous, but only to the single individual participating. It's not dangerous to innocent bystanders. And far, far fewer people bungee jump than drink alcohol. Furthermore, fewer people die or are injured because of it.

So, by comparing alcohol to the other dangerous things you mentioned, you've helped show that the sale and use of alcohol really is regulated far less than it should be given how dangerous it is and how much death and suffering it causes.

Jeff G said...

You have only avoided my question by considering the weakest forms of what I was saying. I wasn't talking about piloting airplanes, but FLYING on airplanes. I wasn't talking about prescription drugs, but drugs of any kind. And so on.

I also don't get your point about how bungee jumping is okay since it is only dangerous the person doing it. How is alcohol any different? Nobody gets somebody else drunk by drinking. I thought your point (partially at least) was that when we hurt ourselves through alcohol consumption we hurt our families, etc.? How is this any different from bungee jumping? This particular point is not intended to refute your argument but rather limit the scope of it.

My point is that alcohol is limited and that there is no reason to enlarge these limits which would not also include enlarging the limits in other areas where most people simply aren't willing to tolerate such enlargements.

(I could also mention that I fail to see whats so "hypocritical" about drinking.)

TylerD said...

Jeff, I'm done debating with you because this isn't a debate. You're not reading what I wrote. You're misquoting me and even yourself, and you're not using valid logic. I'm not making this personal, but I can't debate when you won't stick to the facts, and when you use bad logic to say my argument means something when it doesn't. Let me explain these points.

I never said drinking is hypocritical. What's hypocritical is that we permit tens of thousands of people to die and many more to suffer every year because of alcohol. Additional regulation could save many lives, particularly innocent lives.

Reread what you wrote about drugs. You said "medicine (both pharmaceutical as well as doctors)," so don't tell me that you were referring to all kinds of drugs.

You're not reading what I wrote. You said, "My point is that alcohol is limited and that there is no reason to enlarge these limits which would not also include enlarging the limits in other areas where most people simply aren't willing to tolerate such enlargements." First, there is reason to limit it further. You can't argue with the statistics I quoted earlier. Tens of thousands of innocent people die every year! Clearly, the current regulations are not preventing this.

Second, I said that we as a society already permit the government to regulate the most dangerous activities. You keep saying that if we limit alcohol, then we should limit these other things you listed. Guess what? We already do, except for bungee jumping which results in almost no deaths of innocent bystanders every year (and therefore doesn't need strict regulation which I said already).

The hypocrisy lies in the fact that we highly regulate most of what you mentioned (NOTE: your distinction about "flying" being different from piloting and aircraft regulation is irrelevant since pilots and airplanes are what the government regulates in order to ensure flying can be done safely) except for two of the greatest killers of all: alcohol and tobacco.

It's hypocrisy that we don't regulate alcohol and tobacco to the same level we regulate everything else that risks the same volume of death and injury to innocent people. You can't argue with the fact that far more innocent people die and suffer from alcohol than from bungee jumping.

You're right about one thing, alcohol is already regulated, but I'm arguing it's not regulated nearly as much as it should be in order to adequately protect those who use alcohol and the many innocent bystanders who are hurt and killed as a result.

I'll repeat myself again, bungee jumping is not a valid support for your argument because it risks no innocent bystanders and because far fewer people bungee jump than drink alcohol. You can't say my argument is invalid because it would require greater regulation of bungee jumping. Well, I suppose you could argue that (you already have), but doing so would show your arguments have no credibility.

shiningcity said...

I can't believe I'm going to have to bring bungee jumping into a debate about the stricter regulation of alcohol. :-) If bungee jumping impaired an individual the way alcohol does, and hundreds of thousands of parents were weekly or daily bungee jumping and then abusing their children physically and/or emotionally as a result of said impairment, then, okay, bungee jumping and such activities should be regulated. This argument is really an apples and oranges comparison. It doesn't make sense.
The truth is: (1) Alcohol consumption during pregnancy ruins the mental and physical functioning of the fetus for life. (2) Alcohol related fatalities number nearly 17,000 a year.
I like the idea of a national database of people who have been convicted of drunk driving or domestic violence. It's the least we could do. If we regulate a constitutional right like guns, the least we can do is regulate in a similar nature the purchase of alcohol.

Sam B said...

TylerD,
So what type of regulation are you proposing? Because you realize that regulation of alcohol varies from state to state? In Virginia, alcohol, other then beer and wine, can only be purchased in state-run stores. In Utah, it can't be purchased on Sundays. I'm pretty sure that 21 is the minimum age at which you can purchase, or lawfully drink, alcohol in any state. So distribution and purchase are already significantly regulated.

You want lower alcohol limits? Lower than what? And would the same limit apply to vodka as to beer?

You may be right that alcohol needs to be more strongly regulated, but I have no idea what you mean by that, so I can't evaluate your proposal in any meaningful manner.

TylerD said...

Sam raises a good point and a call to action. I've raised concern that something must be done. Now what do we do? What additional regulations would be effective in stopping the killing and injuring of innocent victims? That's a good topic for further discussion.

FYI, Ronald Reagan recognized the severity of this issue. In 1982, he signed a Proclamation announcing National Drunk and Drugged Driving Awareness Week:

"Each year, more than 25,000 of our citizens, a large number of them young people, are killed as a result of alcohol- or drug-related highway accidents. Seventy times a day -- every 23 minutes -- a life is taken somewhere on our streets and highways because driving skills and judgment were impaired by alcohol or drugs. Too often, a repeat offender is involved and, too often, society has looked the other way."

TylerD said...

In his Radio Address to the Nation on January 1, 1983, President Reagan provided more reasons to deal with this issue:

"The motorist who drinks too much and then drives, who uses drugs and then gets behind the wheel of a car, is a disaster waiting to happen. Overall, alcohol is now involved in up to 55 percent of all fatal highway crashes and is a contributing factor in more than 2 million motor vehicle accidents each year. The drunk driver has turned his car into a weapon -- a weapon that threatens the lives and safety of the innocent."

TylerD said...

Here's another tragedy that might have been averted had it not been for alcohol. Seven college students died in a beach house fire in North Carolina last month. Six of them had blood alcohol levels well above the legal limit for driving. The state's chief medical examiner, Dr. John Butts, said the alcohol they consumed may have affected the students' "ability to respond." Read the entire article here.