UNPACKING THE BACKPACK – America’s little problem

Canvas and cocktails, manicures and mojitos, beard trims and bourbon, soccer practice and sangria – is there anything American adults do these days without having a sip? Let’s face it, Americans have a drinking problem. When young parents can’t have an afternoon playdate without it being accompanied by a glass of wine, there could be a problem. When adults can’t go watch a baseball practice or lacrosse match without slipping a Truly or White Claw in their purse or pocket, there might be a problem. When supermarkets offer beer and wine on tap to sip while you shop, there’s definitely a problem.

The increasing and ubiquitous imbibing by the American public was recently investigated and reported on by Kate Julian, an editor for The Atlantic, who published her findings in an important article entitled “America Has a Drinking Problem.” According to Julian, per capita drinking has increased nearly 10% in the past twenty years. That rate is not all that surprisingly considered the overwhelming presence of alcohol marketing that has come along at the same time. Whereas advertising of hard spirits was once tightly regulated and forbidden on television, the beverage industry has been all too willing and able to flood the market with promotions.

The pandemic certainly didn’t help. I know I placed a few Drizly orders and attended Zoom happy hours when we were all stuck at home for months at a time. However, the latitude the nation allowed itself with drinking during the lockdown has turned into habits many people find difficult to let go. And as I noted earlier, even at a time when the number of bars and drinking establishments has gone down over the years, the number of places where it’s become acceptable, fashionable, even expected to imbibe has increased dramatically. From hair salons to Starbucks and spas, it seems every business is applying for a license to serve these days.

I remember the first time I realized movie theaters were selling booze. My first thought was well, that’s kind of nice. I might enjoy a glass of wine or a beer while watching a flick, just like I might do at home. My second thought was, uh-oh, this could be opening a door that is going to be tough to close. I mean the extra butter on the movie popcorn was already an indulgence. The cocktail might be worse. For, it’s not news that drinking alcohol is simply not healthy or good for anyone. Granted, there are always stories and studies that suggest red wine lowers cholesterol, and that an occasional cocktail can lower stress. But every beer or glass of wine or seltzer is extra empty calories packing on the bulging waistlines of middle age America.

Now, to be clear, I’m no teetotaler. Nor am I scolding mature people for enjoying adult beverages. Growing up Irish and Slovakian, I come from cultures and traditions that appreciate fermented drinks of many kinds. In fact, my parents enjoyed an evening ritual of gin and tonics along with a tour of their garden, and there was often beer or wine with dinner. It’s actually a wonderful time to be a drinker, especially in a place like Denver – craft cocktails from niche distilleries, brewpubs on many corners, a booming wine industry – heck, Colorado has even been called “beer’s Napa Valley.” As Edward Slingerland explains in his book, Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way to Civilization, human beings enjoy drinking, always have and always will.

And, of course, America has already had its battles with going on the wagon nationally. At numerous times from the moment our earliest settlers began drinking pumpkin ales after the booze they brought from Europe ran out, the country’s tolerance and intolerance has waxed and waned. Various temperance movements have restricted access, the most significant being the colossal failure known as Prohibition from 1920-1933. No one will ever pass that kind of legislation again. However, on an individual and even small community basis, Americans are starting to wake up to the fact that there might be a problem.

Drinking is obviously most problematic if people are using it to self-medicate. Recreation is one thing – drinking to relieve stress and anxiety is something altogether more problematic. In Colorado more and more places want to sell booze, and as communities are being asked to approve increased access to alcohol consumption, it might be time to consider saying, “Thanks, but we’ve had enough.”

Michael P. Mazenko is a writer, educator, & school administrator in Greenwood Village. He blogs at A Teacher’s View and can be found on Twitter @mmazenko. You can email him at mmazenko@gmail.com