Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Driniking Games--Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker on Alcoholism

Malcolm Gladwell author of the Tipping Point and numerous other best-selling collections of essays is also a staff writer for the New Yorker.  In the current edition (Feb. 15 & 22, 2010)  Gladwell has a provocative contribution on the subject of alcohol consumption, abuse, and alcoholism.  Gladwell's article, Drinking Games, How Much People Drink May Matter Less than How They Drink It, is unique, as most of his essays are;  because having read it, I don't think there was one mention of "recovery," treatment, or AA.  The focus of the piece was entirely on the way we drink and abuse alcohol from a cultures perspective.  The thesis is that alcohol abuse and the effects of drunkeness is culturally-shaped for example wild and crazy college kids will behave like wild and crazy drunken college kids.  Likewise, Gladwell cites a 1940s study of ethnic Italians in New Haven, Conneticut  who in certain insular communities who reported daily drinking often to the point where you would expect inebriation but without the obvious ill-effects that you see in others. 

Gladwell is notoriously perverse, in the sense that his fascinating take on any subject can leave you spinning sophist syllogisms trying to draw a lesson.  So it's fair to ask, what do we make of Drinking Games,  Mr. Gladwell.  Maybe Gladwell doesn't mean much of anything.  People from certain cultures drink, get drunk, and don't act like assholes--while others do.  Even within these cultures where people routinely drink to excess and don't act like assholes--some do.  Gladwell talks about the various theories of alcoholism, although I'm not real sure what if any conclusions he draws.  Are drunks disinhibited or myopic?  Who cares.  Is Gladwell saying that in those societies where persons drink culturally-responsibly there isn't a physical, familial, or social toll?  Really, I don't know.  The danger in thinking that Gladwell has hit on anything new other than an interesting "aside" to the discussion of alcoholism is that some might think license is granted to abuse away although that would not be Gladwell's fault.  The essay's only apparent conclusion is that there might be a healthier approach to introducing our children to the consumption of alcohol apart from total abstinence followed by drunken debauchery at school. 

Bad Lawyer followers know that the Bad Lawyer is an ex-drinker, and a fomer vice-chair, and chair of the OurTown Bar Association Assistance to Lawyers' Committee.  In my twenty-plus years of reading on the subject of alcoholism, every once in awhile an article or book gets published that has "recovering alcoholics" buzzing.  Is this article or book a new insight, is this a refutation of accepted dogma?  Can an alcoholic ever go back to healthy drinking?   These debates peter out pretty quickly with people needing help getting help, while many others needing help--saying no, no, no... keep on keeping on often unto tragic ends. 

The fact of the matter is, all sorts of things happen under the sun, every imaginable variation.  But alcoholism destroys health, ruins families, and more urgently drunks operating machinery, especially cars kill themselves and others.  All the special insights into the marvelous myriad worlds of our cultural diffences won't change that outcome one little bit.

1 comment:

  1. Gladwell know how to go to the point in regards to alcohol consumption and all these matters that should be a concern for all of us.