A Culture of Drunken Resistance

By: Charlie Howard

On Jan. 16, 1919, the eighteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified. One year later our country went dry, prohibiting all sales and consumption of alcoholic beverages. Prohibition was the most extreme of restrictive alcohol policy in United States history. It was also one the nations least successful alcohol policies because It failed to recognize the culture of resistance that it would meet in the years following it’s ratification.

In a recently published study titled “Reform and Resistance: Exploring the Interplay of Alcohol Polices With Drinking Practices,” Dr. Peter d’Abbs says that drinking policies set in place by those in power neglect and misunderstand the cultures of resistance and thus, the people who are governed by those policies.

In 2014, CU Police made 55 arrests for DUI-related offenses, and 235 arrests for MIP offenses, according to official documents. These documents state that where a single arrest was made for both a DUI offense and an MIP offense, the occurrence was counted as one arrest for each category of offenses, meaning that there were even more individuals charged.

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     Student presses a bottle of Tequila to his lips and gulps in pain moments later, at a house party in Boulder Colorado, Friday, Feb. 5, 2016. (Photo/Charlie Howard)

Student presses a bottle of Tequila to his lips and gulps in pain moments later, at a house party in Boulder Colorado, Friday, Feb. 5, 2016. (Photo/Charlie Howard)

d’Abbs’ study questions the place these, and other restrictive drinking policies have in our society.

To understand to the nature of the culture of resistance it is important to first understand the laws themselves and how they are enforced.

There are two types of justifications for punishment, Ahmed White, professor of legal theory at the University of Colorado, said. There is utilitarian and there is moral. These are the two basis of thought when it comes to establishing criminal law, White said.

Alcohol policies fall at the intersection between these two categories. It is practical to prohibit citizens from driving their cars while impaired because that is a matter of public safety, White said. Morally our society has decided that 21 is the appropriate age to allow a person to consume alcohol but as we know, other cultures have different take on that age, White said.

University of Colorado student Sepp Kuss, when asked about his MIP arrest in 2015 said, “I still believe in the legitimacy of the rules, I just think that there are smarter ways of getting around them.”

Morally, Kuss said, he believes in a younger legal drinking age but from a practical standpoint it makes sense to him. Where Kuss disagreed with alcohol policies in the fact that it is treated as a criminal offense and punished as so.

“If you treat it as a health problem rather then a criminal offense then you can actually focus on helping people who are addicted and have problems, allowing us to focus on the root cause of alcohol and drug disorder,” said Kuss.

On the other hand, many have found that health promotion messages are not so much resisted but rather dismissed as irrelevant to managing one’s behavior, according to d’Abbs.

“Researchers found that the guidelines were seen as irrelevant, largely because they failed to acknowledge the importance of pleasure, sociability, and ‘the complex relations between discipline and abandon’ that influenced the ways in which young people use alcohol,” according to d’Abbs.

From a legal stand point this may not be as simple because many law makers carry the stand point of “so what ?” White said.

“Many people really don’t care about the people whose intention is to break the rule because our legal system is designed purposefully to flush those offenders out,” White said.

This raises the question of, where would we as a society be without these restrictive alcohol policies?

During prohibition for example, the regulation on liquor became so unrealistic that the United States Justice system had to deal with the problem of over criminalization, White said. Over criminalization meaning that there were so many people that were not abiding by the standard of the eighteenth amendment that the United States judicial system began to lose it’s legitimacy.

When asked whether the University of Colorado takes into account these cultures of deviance and resistance when writing alcohol policy, Vice Chancellor for Strategic Relations, Frances Draper, declined to respond.

d’Abbs argues that the desire to drink and to resist using the medium of alcohol is a tactical response to those who have power over those who do not.

“Tactics are the practices deployed by those who lack such powers, whose practices necessarily occur in contexts shaped by others. Tactics are about manipulating events and seizing opportunities to turn them to advantage. Ruses devised on the factory floor or by workers in the office are examples of tactical practices,” d’Abbs said.

Legal theory has very little to offer when it comes to the topic of trying to mitigate tactical decision making and the potential dangerous consequences of someone who might make decisions like these.

The most lawmakers can do is begin to knit pick the way in which they write legislation, or alter the kinds of punishment that might be dealt to someone who chooses to resist policy, White said.

D’Abbs concludes his study by saying “A more sociologically informed theorizing of resistance and the culture surrounding it, as well as more research may redress the neglect, and contribute to a more nuanced understanding of alcohol policies and their place in society.”

The question posed to d’Abbs findings then is not, what can policies do when considering the factor of resistance, but what can society do for itself when trying to understand the nature of resistance?

Is the problem really within the policies inability to take into account the rebellious few, or is it within every single one of us, and the accountability that we take for our actions?