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Jewish World Review April 22, 2002/ 11 Iyar, 5762

Don Feder

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Bottoms up -- more curse than toast | America's romance with a bottle is in the news again -- like a recurring hangover.

According to a study released by the National Institutes of Health this month, on an average day, four college students die in alcohol-related accidents, while 1,370 are injured and 192 are raped by a date or sexually assaulted due to the unrestrained consumption of adult beverages.

Among undergraduates, "frequent binge drinking" (defined as five consecutive drinks for a man, four for a woman -- three or more times in the previous two weeks) is up from 20 percent in 1993 to 23 percent in 1999.

Sloppy drunk is no longer a male prerogative. The April 1 issue of Time magazine reports that at the University of Syracuse each weekend, twice as many women as men are brought to hospitals for acute intoxication. At the University of Vermont, women treated have blood-alcohol levels 10 percent higher than men.

One coed quoted in the story says her highest ambition is to be able to "drink a guy under the table." Recently, after consuming two pitchers of beer, she had a screaming match with her boyfriend and put her fist through a car window.

Therein lies the problem. Alcoholism, America's respectable addiction, is bad enough in itself. But those under the influence often get depressed, mean, abusive, careless, crazed and just plain stupid.

Late last month, a member of the New Hampshire Supreme Court was hospitalized with facial injuries so serious he was unrecognizable. His 30-year-old son, with a history of alcohol problems, was charged with assault.

The college-age son of a friend is serving nine months in a county jail in Colorado for malicious destruction of property and assault arising from the young man's fondness for drink.

In February, I was flying to Philadelphia when I heard what sounded like a war in first class. My heart was literally in my throat, as I expected to hear Allah invoked at any moment.

According to the police report, a 26-year-old man was charged with knocking down a flight attendant who asked him to be seated for landing. Officers said he was intoxicated.

They won't let you take the one-inch file attached to a nail-clipper on a plane. But in first class, you can suck up all booze you can hold.

As a young lawyer 30 years ago, I saw lives devastated by drink in the divorce, assault and even bankruptcy cases I handled.

And still the love affair continues. Alcohol consumption is considered a mark of masculinity. Americans drink to have fun, unwind, celebrate the victory of our team, break the ice on a date, soothe jangled nerves.

Drinking is a rite of passage. Leave home. Go away to school. Get wasted.

The happy drunk is a cultural staple, endlessly perpetuated in movies like "Animal House" and "Van Wilder." Did Ward Bond, Alan Ladd and a legion of talented entertainers die happy?

Along with drugs, booze makes constant accretions to the sum total of human misery -- broken homes, broken heads, ruined careers, dreams lost in a haze.

Billions are spent on emergency-room care, rehab, divorce lawyers, public defenders, prisons and cleaning up the carnage on our highways.

Still, we stagger around the problem but rarely grapple with it, outside of AA meetings. Colleges run educational campaigns warning of the perils of "excessive drinking," but they lack the determination to enforce a simple rule -- no booze in the dormitories -- and back it up with expulsion.

People who wouldn't dream of smoking in public think nothing of getting a buzz in bars and restaurants.

Most of us would die if our kid came home high on cocaine, but we smile indulgently the first time junior or June returns to the family domicile stinking.

This isn't a plea for prohibition. (My semi-educated palate enjoys a glass of wine with dinner.) It's more an appeal for seriousness.

Our drinking problem isn't cute or funny. It's not something to be indulgently tolerated as a youthful foible or an afternoon pastime associated with televised sporting events.

It is unbelievably sad, painful and perplexing. The horror inflicted on this nation on Sept. 11 is nothing next to the daily assault of Jack Daniels and Bud Man.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest books are Who is afraid of the Religious Right? ($15.95) and A Jewish conservative looks at pagan America ($9.95). To receive an autographed copy, send a check or money order to: Don Feder, The Boston Herald, 1 Herald Sq., Boston, Mass. 02106. Doing so will help fund JWR, if so noted. He is also available as a guest speaker. To comment on this column please click here.

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© 2002, Creators Syndicate