Drinking and Drugs

June 18, 1999

What is the biggest drug problem among adolescents? If you answered teen drinking then you are going to like this commentary. If you said something else, then you are probably going to be like the many people who write me nasty e-mail messages.

But don't take it from me. General Barry McCaffrey is President Clinton's director of national drug policy. And the drug czar in this country also believes that "under-age drinking is the single biggest drug problem among adolescents." But as things stand now, the $195 million national media campaign his office is running won't even mention alcohol. It will warn teenagers about illicit drugs, but it won't spend a penny talking about the dangers of drinking.

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy offers two flimsy reasons. First, they argue that talking about drinking will dilute their message about illegal drugs. But isn't under-aged drinking also illegal? And isn't drinking often a gateway to illicit drug use? A recent New York Times editorial (June 2) points out that the goal of the White House's national drug strategy is to "educate and enable America's youth to reject illegal drugs as well as alcohol and tobacco." Adults who started drinking as children are nearly eight times more likely to use cocaine than adults who did not do so.

The second reason Mr. McCaffrey avoids drinking is that he believes that the statute granting his office authority to combat controlled substances leaves him no room to target alcohol. This rigid interpretation is not necessary, but no problem. Congress is currently considering legislation that would explicitly give McCaffry the authority to include under-age drinking among the campaigns targets.

Frankly I think the problem isn't one of marketing or executive authority. It's a problem of perception. We refuse to think of alcohol as a drug, and thus refuse to deal with the biggest problem of all.

I'm Kerby Anderson of Probe Ministries, and that's my opinion.