IN a fascinating case of strange ideological bedfellows, the American Society of Addiction Medicine recently reiterated its opposition to legalisation of marijuana in the US; siding with the hardcore anti-drugs warriors.
The core unrelenting conviction that the substance is the cause of problems, not its irresponsible use, is all pervasive and thus ASAM would have harmless users thrown in jail to prevent the wrongdoings of a few.
This conviction is also emerging in alcohol policy in Australia.
Measures proposed to reduce “alcohol-related violence” in Sydney’s Kings Cross represent a terrible capitulation in the fight against Australia’s developing culture of violence.
If we continue to reinforce the message that “it’s not my fault — it is my alcohol abuse problem” and blame the availability of alcohol, it’s reasonably foreseeable this could have severe consequences in our society.
A much publicised study on early closing times at pubs in Newcastle, NSW, claimed its findings “are consistent with the … availability hypothesis; namely, that increasing the physical and/or economic availability of alcohol increases consumption and therefore alcohol-related harm”.
The folly of such policy direction is probably best encapsulated in the following parody of the Josh Booth incident during the London Olympics: “The people of London should be ashamed. They failed a vulnerable young Aussie. By not advocating 6pm lockouts, by not mandating warning labels on alcohol products, by not enforcing strict responsible-service-of-alcohol policies, the people of London were conspiring enablers of Big Alcohol to peddle their killer product. Josh Booth was another in the long line of innocent Aussie victims to the epidemic of alcohol-related harm.”
It’s a moral and intellectual outrage that violent behaviour can be nihilistically categorised as “alcohol-related harm”. It is like a primitive cult blaming the evil god of alcohol. When deciding to drink and while intoxicated, people remain culpable for violent and antisocial behaviour.
The crackdown in Kings Cross stemmed from the death of Thomas Kelly, whose alleged killer has rightly been charged with murder.
However, the problem is that all the other assaults that do not lead to death and therefore do not attract national media attention are not ruthlessly pursued. Instead we wring our hands and blame the booze.
I don’t want my daughters growing up in a society where there is an epidemic of lack of individual responsibility — a moral jungle where someone can have their life ruined in an instant by another’s primitive urges, completely unrestrained by any societal pressures to take responsibility.
Martin Luther King famously told of the dream he had that his four children “will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character”.
If we reduce everything about our behaviour and actions as the inevitable result of a “disease” or addiction or substance-related harm, then we are debasing character.
In the Newcastle study, a reduction in incidents of assault after restrictions on pub closing times is one small example and has to be considered against the malignant problem of lack of individual responsibility that arises when we collectively punish every decent person who causes no trouble at all for the violent outbursts of a few.
One issue I do agree with is replacing glass containers with plastic, as it is a reasonable and unobtrusive measure. It is the least likely to send a societal message of abrogation of personal responsibility.
However, it is questionable whether closing venues early will make an overall dent in total community violence, especially when it seems violence for many is seen as trendy and completely excused with very little chance of any consequences.
Whether it is alcohol-fuelled, road rage-fuelled or fuelled by the umpiring decision at the kid’s footy, violence is a criminal not a health matter. Until we take our heads out of the politically correct sand and acknowledge that, we will follow ASAM and their comrades into yet another front in the war on drugs.
Dr Michael Keane is adjunct associate professor at the Centre for Human Psychopharmacology at Swinburne University, Melbourne, adjunct lecturer in public health at Monash University and a consultant anaesthetist.
Posted 17 September 2012Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.