Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Dry County

alcohol martiniOne time, while I was sitting on the Kordon with my British friend, she began to tell me about her childhood memories. Pauline explained how every evening her father would come home and he and her mother would sit and have martinis until dinner time. I was rather amused by this image because I grew up in a completely non-alcohol environment. I tried and failed to visualize of my parents slowly getting pickled, stumbling around the kitchen and issuing slurred orders to one another. My British friend smiled smugly and said,"It's about how one is brought up."

As condescending as it sounded, she was correct, of course. Having grown up in a region of Arkansas that was "dry," my mother's attitude about drinking was wholly negative. "It's the Devil's tool," she would say, although she was not all that religious. It was a platitude she cherished but I am sure she meant that alcohol creates a lot of mischief, for the individual and for society.

When I explained the term "dry county" to my students, they all seemed taken aback. "In America?" they'd all ask, with visions of Spring break videos and reruns of some American TV show. The idea that somehow America could be as- or more restrictive about such things- as Turkey boggled their minds.

In the part of Arkansas where my parents grew up, the experiment of prohibition never really ended. The manufacture, the sale and the possession of alcohol is still a punishable offense and it is enforced. Arkansas has 75 counties, of which more than half are dry. And the conservative, devout people that live there support the ban since jurisdictions elect to go dry by public referendum.

Two Tribes

And yet, I always got the feeling whenever I visited that only two types of young people lived there. The ones that were going to marry at sixteen, have a lot of babies and center their lives around their local church. They had very limited ambition and didn't seem very curious about anything outside their community. The rest of the world - meaning any place outside of their own 40 mile circle- was viewed with deep suspicion. "Those people in California are all nuts," "big city types" and "He's one of those liberals from New York" is something you might hear, but normally speaking, there is very little talk about any other place except home. (So often when I spoke of living in Turkey, there was merely silence, as if they couldn't even think of a question to ask.) In their mindset, there is no lifestyle except their own and their religion is ("let's face it") the only true one. Naturally, for those people, the very idea of drinking is pretty much the same as Satan worship.

But then there is the other side. The so-called rebellious oneDrinking ban wine. The frustrated one. The young person that is looking for that chance to escape, somehow. And escape they usually do. (if not, they end up in trouble with the law.) The average age in that country must be about 50. The net migration from the area increases every year. And because there are fewer potential workers, companies are less willing to invest. The result? Fewer job opportunities and a limited variety of jobs. Farming as a means of earning a living is dependent on so many variables, like weather conditions and fluctuations of prices. So it's easy to see why people are leaving for the city.

Arkansas is a beautiful area to visit and yet, tourism has never been a thriving sector. I can't tell you whether the alcohol ban has had a negative effect on tourism but I'd not be surprised. It's only commonsense that tourism is about feeling free and less inhibited than your everyday existence. Does it mean getting drunk every night? No. But if you wish to enjoy a glass of wine with your dinner and the waiter has to apologize because that "kind of thing isn't allowed here," then many, if not most, people would probably think twice about another visit. Despite the fact, I don't drink very much as a rule, I am not sure I'd want to live in an area where that restriction is decided for me. I'm- in most ways, at least, a mature adult, capable of making my own decisions about what is and what is not good for me.

Driving Dry

Eliminating drunk driving is usually one of the goals of the dry county laws. Anti-alcohol groups would like you to believe it's a uncontested fact but the statistics do not support the position that prohibition of alcohol driving drinkingconsumption reduces drunk driving. According to National Center for Statistics and Analysis, dry counties had a fatality rate in drunk driving accidents of 6.8 per 10,000 people. Conversely, wet counties had 1.9 fatalities per 10,000 people. Thirsty residents will drive as far as they need to to get a beer but the problem is driving back home. (This is especially true where a dry county to adjacent to a wet county. )

Critics point out that the statistics are flawed because population density in wet counties are 11 times higher than in dry counties, but the drunk driving accident rate was only 3 times higher.

Then again there may be a reason why wet counties have a higher population density. A lot of people don't want to live in a place with absolutely no social life. If you are used to not going out, then it is easier to bear but this only means that fewer new people would be willing to relocate to your community. At the same time, a lot of young people, after viewing on TV all the highlights of life in the free and unrestricted city, pack up and leave as soon as they see an opportunity. How Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down on the Farm after a few episodes of ?

Whatever the statistics might say, from my own observations, there was less drunk driving because, after around 9 in the evening, there is hardly any driving at all. By ten or eleven, all good people should be in bed seems to be the general idea. What on earth would any decent person be doing out late at night (past 10)?


Strangely enough, while the ban on alcohol has effectively reduced consumption and all its negative effects, that area of Arkansas faces a more difficult problem. Methamphetamine is readily available throughout Arkansas.

I would hate to have judge which is more unhealthy, alcohol or meth. I have seen plenty of drunks in my time. They can be loud and obnoxious and aggressive. Or they can be silly and pathetic. I worked with an alcoholic and one minute he could be sympathetic and sweet, and the next he could bite your head off for asking the wrong question. 'Comes in on Monday morning, looking like he was pulled through a hedge backwards," was the comment his supervisor made one time. But still, I am at least familiar with alcohol.

Meth is another world for me. "Methamphetamine gives the user an extreme, overwhelming sense of euphoria, power, and seemingly boundless energy. Ideas come in a flash, conversation quickens, and sexual arousal is heightened; lights and colors seem brighter, the heart beat speeds up and the person becomes restless with nervous intensity. Without the drug to stimulate these damaged areas of the brain, addicts will be unable to feel normal pleasures and subsequently fall into depression."

Check out the photo to see the physical ravages that meth can cause on the human body. Bad? It gets worse.

Methamphetamine abusers often are paranoid and delusional, may become violent without provocation, and frequently arm themselves against perceived threat. Law enforcement officials in Arkansas report that meth abuse is a significant problem throughout the state.

So you may not be able to get a icy beer on tap, or gin to mix with that tonic,  but at least,  you can  obtain meth to smoke.

Another Example

Many Middle Eastern countries have bans on alcohol, Iran, for example. An Iranian convicted of drinking on three separate occasions could face death by hanging. There is little chance of a pardon. New laws make producers and dealers of alcoholic beverages subject to 74 lashes, fines and imprisonment for three months to one year.

One would think that would be enough of a deterrent. However, despite Sharia Laws, there is a large black market for alcohol illegally imported from neighboring countries. In total, some 14 million liters of liquor are distributed in Iran each year, according to the special anti-smuggling task force which is supervised by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And many Iranians also make their own home brews, a very dangerous practice indeed. Police report that 10 people had died from drinking poisonous homemade alcohol in a northern Iranian province.

And similar to the Arkansas model, in Iran, turning away from alcohol does not necessarily mean a substance-free life. The punishment for drug possession and abuse is not as harsh. Only convicted drug traffickers and wholesale sellers are usually hanged. This has encouraged many heavy drinkers to turn to drug abuse. According to officials, Iran has 1.2 million addicts and 800,000 'recreational' users. But NGOs say that the total number of drug users in Iran is as high as 5 million.

As in the US, there has been a rise to a black market of smuggling of illegal drugs. Anti-trafficking officials say that each year 2,500 tons of illicit drugs are smuggled into Iran from neighboring Afghanistan. In addition over 1,100 tons comes from European and Persian Gulf countries.

And this brings me back to my parents. As dead-set as they were about alcohol, every time I returned home, I would notice more and more prescription drug bottles on the kitchen counter. It started to look more and more like a pharmacy each visit.

"What's THIS for?" I'd ask my mother.

"Oh, that? That's for my nerves. Librium. It reduces my stress." Right. Stress.

"And that one?"

"That's my Elavil --for anxiety. The pink pills? those are for depression. And that's my darvocet.. for pain."

I choose to hold my tongue about the matter but it didn't surprise me that she would put more faith in her doctor than in a bartender or street corner drug dealer.

Apparently, however, the Devil has a large selection of tools.


1 comment:

  1. This is a thoughtful, thought-provoking, useful and very well-done article. Thanks so much for taking the time to write it.


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