I’m troubled by this collection of breathless, context-free statistics. [Alcohol is a big deal, Viewpoints, April 21] The number of fatal auto accidents involving alcohol is as much an indictment of the overreliance on the automobile as it is on alcohol. The number of fatal accidents by intoxicated CTA passengers is extremely small. I am actually more appalled by the 60 percent of rapists who do so unimpaired, clear-headed and conscious of their actions than the 40 percent who have had some alcohol. Indeed, since some of those rapists “drinking at the time of the assault” may not be seriously impaired, that low a percentage suggests that alcohol doesn’t so much cause otherwise good people to rape, but serves only as an excuse or lubricant for those who were going to rape anyway to do so sooner. And that truly is frightening.

I don’t think a no-tolerance policy at school is draconian, or that bringing a representative of SADD (Students Against Drunk Driving) or MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) to speak to students is “overwrought.” I also don’t think these things are very effective; they are the actions of people who want to be able to congratulate themselves for having “done something about the problem” more than they actually want to see any changes. Fear is only a very short-term motivator – especially for adolescents and young adults, who perceive themselves as relatively invulnerable – and zero-tolerance policies are an invitation for clever evasion.

Young suicides, rape, assault or violent death in which alcohol is not involved are just as life-damaging and life-destroying as those where it is.

How many of those 28 percent of alcohol-related suicides of children ages 9 to 15 represent kids motivated to suicide because they drink, and how many are drinking because they feel suicidal? It seems that addressing the underlying issues that make kids feel suicidal would be more effective than cracking down on alcohol. It might do something for the 72 percent of suicides where alcohol isn’t involved, and at least some of those who are trying to drink themselves to death.

Adolescents will soon be young adults who find themselves in social situations that include alcohol. If they don’t learn about responsible alcohol use at home, where will they learn it? Alcohol can and does cause serious problems. I have several friends who are in recovery, and they can tell hair-raising stories about alcohol in their lives. I have many more friends who can, and do, drink responsibly.

I’m not sure what the answer is to those problems, but we saw that prohibition didn’t and doesn’t work. People have been altering their consciousnesses with substances from caffeine on up ever since there were people, and banning these things just creates a black market that can’t be tracked, as well as violence and crime. And over-the-top panel presentations and zero-tolerance policies have been spectacularly unsuccessful so far. I can’t see how having more-frequent, even-more-hysterical panels and increasing the intensity to absolutely-positively-completely-zero-tolerance policies is going to make them more effective. What’s that old saw about doing the same thing and expecting different results?

Steven Maxey is a 15-year Oak Park resident. (This opinion was submitted online.)

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