Fighting Alcohol Abuse – A Modest Proposal

Over 20 years ago several states, including Florida, raised the drinking age from 18 or 19 to 21. They did this under duress. The federal government was threatening to withhold funds earmarked for building roads if they did not comply. Raising the drinking age was a good idea. The consequence of this was fewer teenage traffic fatalities. Some states, including Florida, had lowered the drinking age in the early-70s due to the Viet Nam war. The reasoning was if a 19 y.o. was old enough to fight for his country he was old enough to drink. I have seen this same bad idea come up again because of the Iraq war. Keeping the age at 21 is wise, and already more needs to be done to make alcohol less easy to reach to those who have a history of alcohol related problems.

I would propose that at the time of a DUI conviction, or another alcohol related offense, that the driver relinquish his/her license and be issued a special license. This new license would be a different color and would be clearly stamped: “Problem Drinker – The Sale of Alcoholic Beverages to this Individual is Punishable by Law.”

At the time of purchasing any alcoholic beverage anywhere (bar, liquor store, convenience store, etc) the buyer would have to show his/her license. Special drinking permits could be issued to those who did not have driver’s licenses. Any time alcohol was purchased the buyer would have to show one ID or the other to be served. This would produce some inconvenience for clerks and bartenders and I’m sure the “hospitality” industry and liquor lobby would be stridently opposed. However, I think the benefits would far outweigh the problems.

The advantage of this approach would be that it would keep individuals with DUI convictions or other alcohol related offenses out of bars and hopefully off of the roads. This approach makes more sense than simply raising the severity of punishment for DUIs as most states have done. Punishing the offender with more jail time and higher fines appeals to reasonable, rational adults. Unfortunately, addicts and the actively inebriated are not usually unprotected to the influence of reason.

Prohibition (1919-1933) was a failure in this country and clearly should not be tried again. However, taking some measure to limit the availability of alcohol would undoubtedly prevent a few traffic fatalities and slow or stop the insidious course of action of alcoholism in some. In Florida, as in most states, alcohol is far too easily obtainable. Over the past three decades most counties and municipalities have done away with blue laws and extended the hours when alcohol can be sold. It is in my opinion part of the slow erosion of values and morality that has occurred since the 1960s. I am a licensed mental health counselor and have seen the effects of this erosion of morality up close in the hundreds of addicts and alcoholics I’ve treated over the years.

I propose that states, or the U.S. Congress, enact legislation to limit the sale of alcoholic beverages from noon to midnight and not at all on Sunday. Such legislation would not solve the problem of drunk driving or alcoholism but it would cause a decline in the enormous cost in wasted money and lost lives that alcohol abuse exacts. That legislation, plus the issuing special drinking permits and additional taxes on alcoholic beverages would all help reduce the toll in our increasingly addicted society.

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