Alcohol-Free Socializing As A Solution?

January/February 2016

By David C. Tryon, Esquire

Let’s face it: Alcohol is a drug. It is a drug just as tobacco, cocaine, marijuana, and meth are drugs—some of which are illegal in parts of the United States. Cocaine has, at times, been legal in the United States; similarly, marijuana is, in some places, legal. Some drugs are socially acceptable in our culture and some are not. Cocaine is not socially acceptable. Marijuana may yet become socially acceptable. At one time, smoking was socially acceptable—many now see it as a vice to be overcome or conduct to be disdained. Why then is alcohol a socially acceptable drug and why do we feel compelled to offer it at all social events?

Social drinking is widely accepted and even expected. Attend any social gathering and nearly everyone is drinking something alcoholic. Most law firm dinners, charity fundraisers, or client development dinners include wine. Ever attend a political fundraiser that did not serve alcohol? Probably not. Of course, we know that a beer or a glass of wine makes you feel good and helps you “unwind,” laugh, and mingle. Lots of people like that. In the face of this pervasive culture, it is not surprising that many lawyers have an alcohol “problem.”

Why is alcohol more socially acceptable than, say, cocaine? Is it the legality factor? Cigarettes are legal, yet people now rarely smoke at professional parties. Is it the harm or addictiveness factor? Maybe, but more people have been killed by drunk drivers than by cocaine. In 2013, about 10,000 people in the United States were killed in traffic deaths involving alcohol. In that same year about 5,000 people in the United States died from cocaine usage.  I found no information on traffic deaths involving cocaine. It seems that drinking is socially acceptable “because everyone is doing it.”

If the reason your organization serves drinks at events is because everyone else does, maybe you should consider whether it is socially responsible. There is more concern in our culture about whether to serve food with sugar, salt, or trans fats and meat or non-organic vegetables, than whether to serve alcohol. Perhaps it is time to evaluate—or re-evaluate—the wisdom, health aspects, and risks of drinking and serving alcohol.

In considering whether to serve alcohol at events, we should think about the negative consequences of drinking, which are much the same as any drug. Cocaine and alcohol can both be used in moderation without killing you. Cocaine may be more addictive, but alcohol is addictive for at least eight percent of the population and causes more deaths than cocaine. Would you consider serving cocaine at a bar association function—even if it was legal?

If you have children, how do you justify your use of some recreational drugs (alcohol) and condemn the use of others such as cocaine, marijuana, meth, or heroin? Is it because some are legal and others are not? But so what? Your children sense the hypocrisy. Imagine if you came home from a firm-sponsored event and informed your family that there was an open bar and they were serving one of the other drugs mentioned above. Would you feel comfortable with that? Why not?

The legal profession recognizes that alcohol dependency is a “problem.” The proposed remedy is to try to “help” those “with a problem,” but keep on serving alcohol at all social functions. Does that make sense? Perhaps it is time for our profession to take the lead in examining whether it should be socially acceptable and responsible to have alcoholic drugs flowing freely at all of our social events. I am under no illusions: When a majority of our population drinks, many will be amused by this suggestion. Of course, it took many years before there was an honest debate about the propriety of smoking at social events. My hope is that we can make it socially acceptable to have at least some events without alcohol.

David C. Tryon, Esq., is a partner at Porter Wright Morris & Arthur and practices in Cleveland, Ohio, as a commercial litigator. He is a member of the William K. Thomas AIC

© 2016 David C. Tryon, Esq. This article was originally published in the January/February 2016 issue of The Bencher, a bi-monthly publication of the American Inns of Court. This article, in full or in part, may not be copied, reprinted, distributed, or stored electronically in any form without the express written consent of the American Inns of Court.