Today, we had a lecture on alcohol and addiction. To get the ball rolling, the lecturer played the above mock tequila advert for us. Good times.
Addiction, however, is a serious problem. It's not just a choice, but a primary chronic disease, with an annual death rate of 4-5%. People drink for various reasons - social disinhibition, relaxation, peer pressure, etc. - but drinking too much too frequently modifies your brain to expect alcohol, and therefore depend on it for normal function. Some signs of problem drinking include:
Cutdown - You or others have felt concern about your level of drinking, and that you should cut down
Annoyance - Hearing others ask about/discuss your drinking habits elicits annoyance.
Guilt - You feel guilty about your level of drinking and behaviour.
Eye-opener - You need a drink just to get up in the morning.
The need for an "eye-opener" is a sign of alcohol dependence. Your body becomes so accustomed to a high level of alcohol that it goes into withdrawal during the 8 hours or so during which a you are sleeping. The speaker described one patient who had to keep a Mickey (13 oz. drink of hard liquor) under his bed every night. In the morning, before taking any other actions, he would reach under the bed and down the liquor. Then, he would lie for another 10-15 minutes before he could even get up.
It's worth noting that once you've reached the level of dependence, you can never recover entirely. As the speaker noted, "A cucumber can become a pickle, but once a pickle, it can never go back to being a cucumber."
Alcohol consumption, however, is deeply and culturally rooted in our society to a concerning level. I remember being particularly disgruntled during an Orientation Week overnight trip when several of my medical school colleagues trolloped into the men's cabin at around 4 AM in a drunken commotion which included vomiting and (apparently) peeing on the floor. Let's hear it for professionalism.
A survey of Canadian campuses in 2004 by the Toronto-based Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, found 32 per cent of undergraduates drink at a dangerous level.
Ten per cent of those surveyed reported having experienced alcohol-related assault, 9.8 per cent reported alcohol-related sexual harassment and 14.1 per cent reported having unplanned sexual relations because of being inebriated.
Pervasive societal issues like these aren't going to be solved by rules and regulations, but rather require a concerted change in cultural norms. In the words of G.I. Joe: Now you know, and knowing is half the battle!