When I was seventeen, back in 1981, the legal drinking age rose from 18 to 19 and then to 21. It was pretty frustrating for a generation of kids looking forward to their first legal drink but it was a positive change motivated in large part by Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The consesus in the 1970s was that if an 18-year-old could be drafted into military service he should be able to legally drink. Road fatalities rose when the drinking age dropped. Acording to MADD drunk driving fatalities have dropped by over 50 percent since they began their campaign against under age drinking. Over 300,000 lives have been saved.
While we may have stringent laws against drunk driving we have somehow missed the point with our cultural attitude about simply getting drunk. Over the last thirty years or so fatalities from drunk driving have fallen but fatalities from binge drinking have risen. Alcohol-related liver disease among the twenty to thirty something crowd is soaring in Australia and the UK but according to some studies young Americans and especially American girls, are binge drinking at higher rates than their Australian and English peers.
The most powerful "Don't Drive Drunk" advertisement I've seen as an adult came from Australia. Once I'd seen this brilliant Australian ad I never again got in the driver's seat after "a few too many" and it was finally the the Australian website Hello Sunday Morning that helped me get to the point where I never have "a few too many" period. As with most drunk driving campaigns, however, this brilliant ad addresses the consequence of a problem without addressing the problem.
The ad begins with families, friends, work colleagues and lovers celebrating, relaxing and romancing with a few drinks. We see drinking and sometimes drinking too much as so natural and familiar in these situations that there isn't any reason to question the behavior. When the cars start to smash into each other and people are brutally mangled it is as shocking as drunken violence is in reality.
From pleasure and joy...
From the warmth of friends and family...
... violence and death
Somehow the message we've sent our children is, "It's normal, fun and relaxing to drink and get a bit drunk just DON'T do it and Drive!"
What I learned while working through my 12-month sober challenge on the Hello Sunday Morning website is that I don't need to drink to celebrate, relax and romance. It turns out that drinking actually dulls my senses to the point where I don't really experience any of those joys fully.
Drinking dulls my senses to the point where I'm not really present in my life.
Sober my senses are alive.
It is terribly important that we not drink and drive but maybe it's also time to think a bit about the way we drink. The risks of binge drinking are believed by some to make alcohol the most dangerous of drugs.
Maybe the message should not just be "Don't Drive Drunk" but "Don't Drunk."
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.