Forum editorial: The alcohol problem is everyone's

Alcohol abuse by minors and young adults is not a youth problem. It's rooted in societal norms that are generations old.

Alcohol abuse by minors and young adults is not a youth problem. It's rooted in societal norms that are generations old. It's nourished by a fickle culture that equates drinking with social success, but then plays the finger-wagging nanny when alcohol is abused.

And then, with hypocritically arched eyebrows, insists that today's youth don't understand "personal responsibility."

It's not that simple.

The responsibility for the alcohol poisoning tragedy and near-tragedies that have occurred in the last few months in Fargo-Moorhead does not rest exclusively with the young people involved. They were participants in alcohol-abuse practices that have the community's tacit approval. When something goes terribly wrong -- as it did a few days ago in Moorhead -- the major players in the alcohol culture look for culprits everywhere except in the mirror.

The booze-lubricated rite of passage at age 21 is not unique to today's young people. The current version might be riskier (see Jane Ahlin column on Commentary page), but the ritual is essentially the same. The participants gather to abuse alcohol for the same reason they did a generation ago.


It's easy to assign blame: "Where were the parents?" cluck the holier-than-thou. "It's those liquor stores that sell to anyone," say parents. "It's the bars that allow 'power hours'," say retailers. "Where are the police when you need them?" ask bar owners. "It's the sex-and-booze ads on television," says everyone.

It's all of the above.

No progress will be made to stem a plague of underage binge drinking until a broad-based coalition generates consensus that first, there is a problem, and second, the community needs to do something about it.

Don't get your hopes up.

First: If the community concedes there is a problem (no guarantee there), it would follow that everyone involved with booze -- from customer to seller, from bar to bar fly, from parent to child -- would have to be at the table. Special invitations should be sent to parents who provide alcohol for underage kids at house parties and lake cabins.

Second: Consensus would require sacrifice and compromise, which could mean sellers of alcohol might be asked to sell fewer drinks in certain situations -- the "power hour," for example. But the reason power hours and happy hours are tolerated (encouraged?) is because they increase sales. After all, business is business, right?

Third: A better relationship between law enforcement and retailers of alcohol (see Keith Bosek column on Commentary page) is essential. If liquor store and bar owners believe they can't rely on Fargo police to help them keep underage youth out of their establishments, the struggle already is lost.

Changing the message about alcohol abuse (it's not cool, sexy or smart) is a formidable task. The forces of boys-will-be-boys tradition and bikinis-on-the-beach pop culture are arrayed against young people. One community's voice is not enough to change an entrenched alcohol-soaked modus vivendi.


Or is it? It's worth a try, if only to plant the seed of change -- if only to convince this community that the death of a young man from alcohol poisoning is everybody's business.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum

management and the newspaper's Editorial Board

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