A letter from a reader: Treat the real causes of alcoholism

July 16, 2008:

In the fall of 1946, I arrived on the Princeton campus, carrying one suitcase and my golf clubs. By 10 p.m. that evening, I was well on my way to getting drunk. I doubt that the drinking environment at Princeton, after a dozen hours in residence, had anything to do with this. My point is that 62 years later, Princeton is still trying to "figure it out."

The University has been condoning, if not aiding and abetting, alcohol consumption by a student body that, statistically, is 75 percent underage. One need only walk in the P-rade to see evidence of this. This mixed message from Nassau Hall has not been particularly helpful in dealing with high-risk drinking.

I first wrote a letter to PAW regarding this problem in the late 1980s or early 1990s, and I have followed with other correspondence concerning various efforts to "come to grips with high-risk drinking" (President's Page, June 11). These efforts have included an alcoholism czar, various task forces on health and well being, and now the Alcohol Coalition Committee, formed to develop a strategic plan to address high-risk drinking on the part of undergraduates. Note, also, the PAW feature, "Confronting the Beast," March 24, 1999. This ACC group, made up of a politically correct and diverse body, will now study the problem and provide a plan of action "to understand and, ultimately, change the culture of high-risk drinking on campus."

As a recovered alcoholic, I believe the University needs to understand the difference between alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction. Abuse is a social occurrence: the other, addiction, is an allergy, manifested by an inability to control the amount of alcohol consumed on any given occasion. Once this distinction is made, the approach to a solution is fairly straightforward.

Alcohol abuse can be dealt with very easily by enforcing the University rules regarding alcohol consumption and the laws regarding underage drinking. Consequences work for abusers if they are realistically severe. Alcohol addiction, on the other hand, is a disease, and consequences don't have much impact on the real alcoholic. Task forces and coalition committees can't do much to help the suffering alcoholic, but these individuals can recover from this seemingly hopeless state of mind and body.

  In closing, I would remind the readers that "God so loved the world that he did not send down a committee." There are no intellectual or academic solutions to alcohol addiction, and all the wonderful adjectives describing this latest effort, and a worthwhile effort it is, to deal with the problem will have little effect on the alcoholism component of high-risk drinking on the Princeton or any other campus.

  Let's stop trying to treat symptoms, such as the academic calendar, academic pressure, or any other real or imagined social obligations, and begin to treat the real causes.

St. Louis, Mo.

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