You hear some extraordinary things in an open plan office. I’ve just overheard a holiday conversation between three of my colleagues. One of the ladies has two children, aged 18 and 20 (clearly not ‘children’ but I shall use the word because ‘issue’ or ‘offspring’ sounds a bit odd). Both children are still living at home but as you would expect they are starting to spread their wings, ready to fly the nest, and are becoming more and more independent.
Anyway what her and her husband have said to their children now they are growing (grown) up is that they are more than welcome to go on holiday with them (which they will pay for) but equally if they no longer want to go on holiday with their Mum and Dad then they don’t have to go along. I thought that was all very nice and sensible; no point forcing your children to go on holiday with you if they don’t want to, but equally it is very nice (if you can afford it) to keep inviting them along.
Anyway this year they are off on a cruise, so really pushing the boat out (ha ha). However neither of the two children are going along. Why? Because it is an American cruise ship, and they apply the American age restriction on serving alcohol, which is 21. So neither of them would be able to drink on board.
The conversation then centred about their decision not to go along as they wouldn’t be able to drink, with everyone agreeing that it is understandable, and the mother herself taking this position. I resisted making any comment.
To get things into perspective though this is a possible once in a lifetime holiday, fully paid for, and the reasons they wanted to stay at home was not to have the house to themselves, or arrange parties, but simply because they couldn’t drink on the holiday. And these weren’t two grizzled, three bottles of spirits a day drinkers, these are two young, up and coming students. There of course may have been other influencing factors in their decision not to go (such as having the house to themselves or having a party) but the point is that it was considered perfectly reasonable for them to refuse to go on the basis that they wouldn’t be able to drink.
Now I am assuming that these two ‘children’ do not have a problem with alcohol (or the conversation would have taken a very different turn) but it highlights the role alcohol plays in our society. It also, I think, demonstrates the age at which we become dependent on alcohol. They may not be dependent on alcohol to get out of bed in the morning or to deal with every aspect of their lives, but they are clearly dependant on alcohol to get them through certain situations, to such an extent that what should be very enjoyable once in a lifetime experience is missed out on because the drug they need to enjoy that situation is missing.
I remember doing a similar thing when I was younger. I can’t remember exactly how old I was but it was between 14 (because I had started drinking and smoking) and 16 (as I was still at school) and our parents took myself and my sisters to Disney World. I absolutely loved it. In fact there was only one occasion when I was miserable. We went to one of the few places you could drink alcohol (I doubt it exists anymore, it seems alcohol is now virtually unobtainable in Disneyland, but this was 25 odd years ago). It was an amazing place. It was done up like an old colonial gentleman’s club but many of the exhibits moved or did odd things if you watched them long enough. My Mum and Dad had a drink but I was too young, so I sat there miserable all evening. What an obnoxious little brat I was.
Societies’ view is that it takes several years to become addicted to drinking, however this is not how we should be looking at it. It is not a question of not-addicted / addicted, with a grey area in between. Rather it is a case of becoming addicted from the start, but only in respect of a very limited number of situations (like socialising) with the later stages being addicted to a far wider array of situations (like every weekend, evening, lunchtime, morning, second of consciousness, argument, setback, meal, etc). The earlier stage drinker is simply addicted or reliant on alcohol on far fewer situations, whereas the later stage drinker is reliant on alcohol on a far greater number of situations.
Alcohol has been a part, maybe an essential part, of human society forever, or for as long as we’ve been able to trace it. About the only thing archeologists are certain of when they investigate a new site of human habitation, at least since the start of the agricultural age, is that they will find evidence of wine or beer making. Some people think it was a a necessary part of our development as people. From the beginning of the agricultural age water was generally poisonous. Those who survived drank wine or beer. This carried through at least until the 1800’s. We didn’t know boiling water sterilized it and made it safe to drink. Some people think it was the advent of coffee and tea that enabled industrial civilization to go forward. A strange twist of history is that the Union army in the American civil war had a category of soldiers known as ‘coffee boilers’. Their job in a battle or a long march was to drop back and begin to boil coffee. It wasn’t the coffee, of course, that made it safe. It was the boiling.
I say this to point out that alcohol has always (or nearly always) been with us.
I think that is very true and a very interesting point, alcohol has certainly been with since time immemorial and has shaped our history. I have been reading recently about the Peninsular Wars. France had conscription, so their military came from all walks of life. Britain’s army however was made up entirely of ‘volunteers’. However the army was a brutal place, no one wanted to join, so to boost numbers recruiters would ask very few questions, magistrates would often offer joining up as an alternative to a custodial sentence, and part of the wages were paid in a daily and substantial amount of alcohol. The result was that the British army became notorious for its hard drinking and brutality, a large part of it being made up of criminals, outcasts and alcoholics. Napoleon and his Marshalls commented and complained about it, saying that the British infantry just never knew when it was beaten and refused to ever retreat because they were so drunk. I also remember reading an article once that claimed that the course of the Second World War was greatly influenced by Churchill’s drinking and Hitler’s use of amphetamines.
However just as alcohol has been with us for time immemorial, presumably so has smoking tobacco been with the Red Indians, and cocaine addiction has been with South American indigenous peoples who chew the coca leaves. This doesn’t necessarily mean that cocaine addiction and smoking is an essential part of human existence. Allen Carr also made the point that drowning has been with mankind from the very beginning, but no one would ever suggest that we should encourage a certain percentage of people to drown every year as it is essential to human development.
I know this isn’t an exact analogy but I think it highlights that we human being strive to improve, whether it is our health, our own quality of life, the quality of life of future generations, of the quality of life of others on the planet, the condition of the planet, or to alleviate the suffering and death of other species.
If you find something that makes you feel good, why wouldn’t you take it? Whether it is chewing or smoking a certain leaf makes you feel more alert, or consuming a strange smelling stagnant bucket of fruit that has been left out for too long, that makes you feel less tired and removes your fear. You wouldn’t know there were any side effects, so you’d just keep doing it. This was the position prehistoric man was in, but we are not in this position. We now understand far more about the side effects (and indeed the direct effects) of consuming drugs than at any other point during our history.
Alcohol may have been with us throughout history, but if we now conclude we are better off without it, then it goes.