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McCaghy interviewed 158 men who were sentenced for sexual offences against children below 14 years of age. This is one of the most stigmatized criminal acts and is even seen as a symptom of a personality disorder. The study shows that intoxication at the time of the crime offers the perpetrator opportunity to confess the stigmatized act without surrendering his identity as a normal member of society:The study concluded that drinking allowed the child molester to confess the deviant behavior without harming his identity as a normal citizen. The offender can substitute his deviance with a less, more acceptable and temporary deviance, far less detrimental to his identity as "normal". Reference to alcohol enables many molesters to admit their offence and yet avoid identifying himself with other molesters.
"If you've been drinking a lot, your passions are aroused... I was drunk and I couldn't account for myself... Drinking is the reason... If I were sober; it would never have happened... When I drink I get that "I-don't-give-a-damn"-attitude... Every time I have committed a crime I was drunk, I'd never do it if I were sober... I have a drinking problem, not a sex problem."
McCaghy's study demonstrated how intoxication protects self respect. Two female psychologists at Georgia State University studied how other people's judgment is influenced by intoxication. One study considered men's violence towards women and the other study rape.2 ,3
The participants heard records from several cases involving violence or rape. In some cases the male offender was intoxicated, in other cases he was sober. In some cases the female victim was intoxicated, in other cases she was sober. The participants were invited to comment on the cases and appraise the issue of guilt.The study of the Georgia psychologists was limited to violence and rape. At Washington State University in Seattle, a psychologist wanted to assess the importance of intoxication for several other types of actions:4
The answers showed that male offenders are judged more leniently when they are intoxicated. When the female victim has been drinking, more blame is ascribed to her.
Eighty participants were presented with 8 stories about excessive talking, insulting remarks, violence, willful damage, over-eating, forgery, embezzlement and robbery. One half of the actions were done during intoxication.All the studies verify intoxication's role in providing a good alibi to people who intend to show deviant behavior. This is linked to typical aspects of the moral code in our culture.
Guilt was attributed to intoxication for all the different kinds of actions. The more stigmatized the behavior, the more guilt was attributed to intoxication.
The conventional view of intoxicated persons is exactly that they "do not know what they are doing". The consequences are obvious. Criticism is not directed towards the intoxicated behavior, but towards the use of the intoxicant. Instead of critizising the behavior, people say: "You have to stop using drugs!" - "You mustn't drink that much!"
When a woman is beaten by her husband while he is sober, she may call him a "brutal beast". If he neglects his duties, she may call him "lazybones".The focus of the discussion is transferred from the real issue (the issue of behavior) to a pseudo-problem which is more difficult to handle (how much alcohol is appropriate to consume, whether or not to take illegal drugs).
If he behaves in exactly the same manner after drinking, she may say: "He is really a good man, but he drinks too much. He's got a drinking problem."
The same applies to use of illegal drugs.
The redefinition of behavior problems as a problem of intoxicant use may be beneficial for both parties at short sight:
The offender is spared feelings of guilt and shame.
When her husband has been rude after drinking, the wife comforts herself with the thought that she does not actually have a mean husband. When a teenager has been performing stigmatized actions while on drugs, it is reassuring for the parents to blame the drugs for the actions.
In Ibsen's play, Peer's mother Aase comforts herself before dying:
Peer: I know I am to blame. What do I benefit from being reminded of that?Both parts agree that it happened because he/she/I was intoxicated. The sentence is directed towards the intoxicant, not the individual's personality.
Mother Aase: You! No, that damned booze is to blame, that was the reason for the misery. My dear boy, you were drunk, then man doesn't know what he is doing; ...
This is why substances which are regarded as intoxicants give a unique sense of freedom. The actions of the individual will not be linked to the self-image or reputation. Hence the basic feeling of intoxication, which everyone who has ever been drunk og "high" has felt inside is,
"Now it doesn't matter what I say and do."
This feeling is well founded. Society's view of intoxicated people makes it less risky to behave deviantly while intoxicated. The behavior does not have the ordinary consequences for self-esteem and prestige.
Which person shows which behavior, does not, of course, happen by chance. The well-controlled individual may permit himself verbal aggression. The individual who shows verbal aggression while being sober, may permit himself violence. The violent person may use a degree of force resulting in a killing.
For better or for worse, the lowered threshold for impulsive behavior will cause behavior which otherwise would not have taken place.
For introvert persons, it may be a good opportunity for being more spontaneous. Some provide more contact or humour than they ordinarily do.
Office parties not only serve the function of pulling the staff together. Some employees want to scold or insult the boss. Others want a flirtation with a married colleague. Wanting to protect their reputation and minimize the undesirable consequences, they wisely postpone this behavior until the office party, so everyone will understand that intoxication is the reason - they are "not really like that".
For better or for worse, impulses and whims are let out. Some of the impulses are pleasant or humorous, others are ruthless or cruel.
The proponents of an intoxicant often claim that the real property of the intoxicant is to make people nice and friendly. When destructive behavior is related to the intoxicant, they blame the individual's faulty use of the intoxicant (deviance or disease). Friends of alcohol argue in the same way as advocates of cannabis. They want to enjoy the benefits of relaxing ordinary norms of behavior without having to share any responsibility for the accompanying tragedies. But the social role of being intoxicated lowers the threshold for all kinds of impulses - both the pleasant and the horrific.
The nice and the destructive behavior are both a logical consequence of the mitigating circumstance. The funny man at the party, the spontaneous friend, the partner who is ready for seduction, the rapist and the pyromaniac are all the logical result of the "Now-it-doesn't-matter" atmosphere.
A psychological understanding of the intoxication confirms the historical evidence: In spite of the long-term hopes, society has never succeeded in enjoying much of the joys of intoxication without having to pay the corresponding price of hardships and tragedies.
"During intoxication, one is "allowed" to do things which the superego ordinarily forbids. The abuser cheats or manipulates the superego with the intoxication."Here is an example, which like most other examples are from psychiatric work.
A high-school teacher in his forties is a work addict. When he is sober, he does not allow himself to limit the number of extra tasks (for the school, extra employers, friends and neighbors).Most people who generally demand much of themselves, do not use intoxication to manipulate their conscience. But many people do have narrow limits in a certain area.
During his drinking periods, he does not misbehave. He does not, in fact, do much at all. He gets a kind of vacation which is well-deserved and easily understood, but is totally incompatible with the superman-image he struggles to maintain.
The task of the therapist is to give him insight into his unconscious motives and to provide him a sick note when the pressure is too high.
Objecting or rejecting other people is a taboo for some people. Some of these aggression-inhibited persons use intoxication as a "solution":
A lawyer in his fifties has been drinking during all his vacations for the last few years, but has otherwise been functioning well. His wife thinks the reason is his "compulsion for drinking". This is one of the pseudo-explanations for drinking which our society offers.Illegal drugs may, of course, be used for the same purpose:
The couple has largely a good relationship, but have some inhibition concerning aggression, so verbal disagreements are rare.
Towards the end of a Christmas vacation, they have a quarrel and his wife calls for a psychiatrist.
During the years, the two have developed different preferences for spending their winter vacation. She looks forward to skiing and parties, while he would rather pad about in his dressing gown and slippers. He is ashamed of feeling old and weary and doesn't want to concede this to his wife.
But by means of drinking, he gets his way.
Anne is known as a fair, gentle and smiling girl. But nobody feels that way inside all the time. Feelings of guilt prevent her from frankly opposing her parents. When the internal pressure becomes too strong, she leaves the flat or insists on being left alone in her room.Anne is also facing problems when she wants to terminate the relationship with her boy-friend:
From puberty, she periodically joins the subculture using illegal drugs, and is often obviously intoxicated when coming home. In those cases, her self-image does not prevent her from appearing grumpy and obstinate in front of her parents. Telling this to her psychiatrist, she seems well satisfied, stating that "It serves them right that I'm not always smiling politely at them."
For a while, she has been out of contact with the drug culture and has been working. But she feels repressed in her relationship with her friend and wants to quit. But saying this is difficult.The outbursts of aggression which may be displayed by intoxicated persons, may not only be unpleasant for others, but sometimes inexpedient for the aggressive person too. But the basis for the indignation may be easily understandable:
Anne seizes the wine bottle in her parents' cupboard and drinks three glasses. To her, this amount is sufficient to allow her to speak out. "I was quite drunk and told him the naked truth", she later tells her psychiatrist with satisfaction.
A forty year old woman says: "I drink because my man treats me so badly".Similar examples are found several places in the scientific literature.6 ,7 ,8
I reply, "I don't think that may be the entire explanation. Your drinking doesn't make you less sad, and your husband only becomes more angry when you're drunk. Besides, I don't think most women who have nasty husbands, are especially heavy drinkers."
It turns out that while drinking, she gives herself permission to let out all her pent-up aggressive feelings and pushes housework over to her husband. Her rebellion is fully understandable and well-founded, and she obviously feels he deserves it. But when her protest is legitimated by drinking, the insubordination undermines her position in the family.
We often observe that someone whom we think might well have a more strict conscience, uses intoxication for further lowering his level of consideration.
The following example is taken from a psychiatric out-patient clinic. The patient is a depressed woman. Like many others, she says her main problem is the partner's drinking.
When the partner accompanyies the patient to the psychiatrist, he has not been drinking for a couple of weeks. But he seems rather unconcerned when he states that: "I do want to stop drinking, but of course, I can't guarantee that I will make it."The reason why the partners demand a stop to the drinking, is the same in almost every case - the problem behavior that accompanies drinking.
I (to her): "Why is it so crucial for you that he stops drinking? Are you worried about the money, or his liver, or the risk of an accident during intoxication, or what?"
She: "No, my problem is how he reacts to alcohol - the way he becomes from drinking. After a couple of beers, he becomes indifferent and hostile towards me. He goes downtown and may stay away for several days. He goes with women he meets downtown. When I try to stop him, he sometimes beats me."
The partner's reasoning is that alcohol makes the drinker behave that way. In the long run, it hardly benefits the partner to see it this way. Intoxication allows an opportunity for a maximum of impulsive behavior with a minimum of sanctions. It is often appropriate to reason the other way around: The drinker intoxicates himself in order to behave that way.
If we do not think it is wise to redefine the behavioral problem to a drinking problem, we may say:
I (looking thoughtfully into her eyes): "You call it reacting that way to alcohol. But do you really think the alcohol in a couple of beers may force him to go downtown for several days and cheat on you? In fact, I think most beer-drinking men don't do those things?"If we ask the partners how they would have responded if the partner showed the same behavior without being intoxicated, the usual answer is:
"In that case, I would have divorced him a long time ago, for that would imply that he really was like that - was the kind of man who could do such things to me."The whole range of the most stigmatized and grotesque actions are related to intoxication, especially to alcohol intoxication. The more sadistic an act of violence is, the more probable that it has been committed during intoxication. A person's self image will seldom endure having committed sadistic behavior without an "extenuating circumstance".
This leads to immense tragedies. In many cases, the partners' despair is not the worst, as they have the possibility of divorce. But children cannot choose their parents, and parents maintain their ties during the whole lifetime.
Weighing the benefits up against the tragedies of intoxication, is an ordinary human issue, not a professional one.
The use of intoxication for harmless or pleasant behavior probably outnumbers the use for ruthless behavior. The problem is that several people behave so utterly destructively during intoxication. Weighing the benefits towards the harm, a huge number of spontaneous, charming party guests will probably be required to outweigh each killer or rapist.
The phenomen of "drinking for comfort" is a paradox. In most cases, the drinker becomes more sad, sentimental and tearful for every glass he drinks. What kind of comfort is that?
For people who feel that exposing despair and crying is a taboo, intoxication may manipulate their self-image. They sometimes have a strong need for sharing their despair with others, display their pent-up feelings and let the tears flow. If the self-image does not permit this behavior during full personal responsibility, it may still be acceptable during intoxication.
While straightforward despair most often is a taboo for males in our society, casual sexual relationships are more often a taboo for females. Here, too, intoxication may be useful.
Overweight and feelings of inferiority are bothering a 21 year old woman. She often drinks excessively during weekends, and comments:The intoxicated behavior gives her a certain feeling of being accepted and attractive after all. In the short run, her feeling of inferiority is weakened. Still, the behavior is so much stigmatized that in the long run, her self-esteem is probably further undermined.
"Sometimes I feel like a nobody, wanted by no one. Then I get drunk and sleep with one man after another."
Intoxication is, of course, also used as a pretext for amusing behavior:
On my daily route from work, I often meet a drunk man who jokes and teases. To us pedestrians who pass by, he says all the things that we others merely think about each other (about clothing, behavior etc.). He is harmless and in reality quite popular.We hardly get insight into this man's feelings by asserting that he behaves like a clown because he is drunk. He drinks because he enjoys clownish behavior. If his self-esteem would allow him to take on the clownish role without an excuse for it, he would have saved both money and health.
Parents and youth often argue over the issue of beverages at teenage parties. The disagreement is apparently over chemistry and blood alcohol levels. But the real issue is the rules for behavior. Several young people want an alibi because of their lack of self-confidence and their wish to let their impulses out. But the teenagers' impulsive behavior is indeed what the parents fear.
Anthropologists who have studied alcohol use in various societies, point out that intoxication is often demonstrated in a conspicuously visible or loud way. It also takes place after drinking very small amounts of alcohol. An anthropologist says:9
"By advertising that you're drunk and socially irresponsible, others will know how to interpret your words and deeds. It doesn't do you any good to be drunk and try to get away with things if other people don't know you're drunk. You have to make that message clear.The same phenomenon is often observed in our own society. Both at parties and in public places, we often observe the alibi being prominently demonstrated. The method may be exaggeration of the bodily signs of drunkenness (swaying or snuffling) or demonstration of the intoxicant (the bottle in the hand or sticking out of the pocket).
The implications of such a belief for the disinhibition hypothesis are obvious. If it is to people's advantage to behave in a drunken manner, and if such behavior is culturally excused, then many drunks will behave in this way regardless of whether they are physiologically inebriated. Indeed, it's often to their clear advantage not to be too drunk physiologically - (it applies to) sexual arousal, and ... aggressive behavior - if you're drunk, you get beaten up; if you're not too drunk, then you'll probably win the fight."
A late Saturday evening, the 16 years old David and some of his friends are sitting in a bus. David has a low self-image and is often bothered by feelings of inferiority. But now, he takes the opportunity to compensate for these feelings. He talks loudly, boasts and is apparently full of self-confidence. He is singing and joking, insulting some adults who are sitting nearby.At parties, people sometimes focus tremendously on the intoxicant use. Over and over again, the glasses and beverages are commented, are objects for singing and repeated toasting. The intense focusing serves to emphasize that the intoxicant is present, with all the associated opportunities for impulsive behavior. No one is allowed to overlook that the party is of the "Now-it-doesn't-matter"-kind.
He is holding his bottle of beer high and, he is swaying and talking more indistictly than he actually needs to. This behavior is intended to convey the message: "If somebody in the bus should happen to know me, remember that I am not really like this! Now I cannot account for myself!"
Some countries and states have laws prohibiting the consumption of alcohol in public places. If the legislature intended to prevent liver disease or accidents, the ban on public drinking is hopelessly insufficient. What, then, is the intention?
The lawmakers seem to have had an intuitive apprehension of the purpose of visibly demonstrating the use of an intoxicant: It serves to legitimize problem behavior. And for preventing this behavior, the law may seem quite logical. We may choose whom we will associate with in private life and at parties, but we all have to attend public places.
A purposeful action shows that the person is not unconscious in the normal sense of the word. But in order to conform with the public apprehension of intoxicated people, some countries consider intoxication as equal to unconsciousness.
The lawful position of self-inflicted intoxication has been controversial.10 It seems that in principle, laws in most countries judge intoxicated perpetrators as if they were sober. The actual practice of judges and juries is, however, likely to reflect society's general attitudes towards intoxicated persons. Well-known defence lawyers have stated that they are fortunate if the defendant has been intoxicated at the moment of committing the criminal act, as this fact may lead to a milder sentence or increase the chance for a suspended sentence.
In the USA, it has been shown that in cases of murder, intoxicated suspects more often are found not guilty than sober suspects.11 Another American study indicates that intoxication is primarily considered an extenuating circumstance when the perpetrator is a young first time offender.12
The study showed that for older criminals labeled "alcoholics", intoxication does not have this effect. On the contrary, for elderly alcoholics, intoxication even tends to increase the severity of the sentence, probably because the chronicity of the drinking increases the risk of repeated crimes. The defender may not, as in the case of a young first time offender, claim that the perpetrator "is not really like that" and that "after the crime, he has stopped drinking".
Thus, the legal attitude towards intoxicated behavior is ambiguous. But even in the cases where the perpetrator is convicted, impact of the criminal act upon reputation and self-esteem may be of greater importance than the court's sentence. And as long as the individual does not perform criminal acts' when being sober, the individual and his surroundings will probably infer that "he is not really like that".
More than 4000 (!) individuals were asked to comment on 30 fictitious, but characteristic stories about people drinking from a minimum of 2 drinks to a maximum of 13 bottles of beer. The quantity of alcohol was not found to determine primarily whether the label "drinking too much" was used. The behavior that accompanied the drinking was more important.The popular phrase "drinking too much" does not have the connotation we could immediately believe - drinking a large quantity of alcohol.
If the drinker was pleasant and kind, there was a considerable tolerance for drinking a large amount of alcohol. But if the drinker was destructive or quarrelsome, it was easily labeled "drinking too much" although the actual consumption was not reported to be large.
In social life, we often conclude that someone has been drinking "too much". Our idea is not based on counting the number of glasses which the drinker has been consuming. Which person is said to have been drinking "too much", is based on something we hear or see from a distance of several meters. The evidence is unusual or inappropriate behavior. Other party guests may have been drinking far larger amounts of alcohol!
Several persons who drink "too much", do in fact consume moderate amounts of alcohol. There are also people who consume large amounts of alcohol without conspicuous changes in their behavior. They are seldom perceived as problem drinkers, but are still at risk for accidents or diseases due to their drinking. Personally, I have met heavy drinkers who had even developed the serious complication delirium tremens without having been labeled problem drinkers by their wives and children. As long as they did not show problem behavior, the family did not object to their drinking.
The behavioral problems are the sort of problems related to alcohol which causes most concern. The relatives' demands for compulsive treatment very seldom come in cases of life-threatening disease (for example cirrhosis of the liver). The demands are in the vast majority of cases provoked by the intoxicated behavior which the relatives can no longer bear. This applies to both legal and illegal intoxicants:
"The last time he forced his way into our apartment, he molested his stepmother - she fractured three bones and was admitted to the hospital. Are we expected to merely submit to such behavior?"The redefinition of these behavioral problems into treatment problems probably leads to a more gentle handling of the intoxicant users. But it seldom resolves the problems. The public, politicians, the social welfare agencies, the judicial system and others have unrealistic expectations of the ability of the treatment system to sort it out. But the cure for ruthless intoxicated behavior has not been invented and probably never will be.
"Last year, he has smashed and pawned family belongings of more than 3000 dollars value. So, now he has to be taken into treatment for his drug addiction!"
Prevention is easier than cure. In earlier times, the tragedies people witnessed often inspired combatting the drinking culture. In the last decades, it has more often led to unrealistic demands for treatment.
The moral reproaches are in most cases less due to moral prejudices than to the actual behavior of the drinker. As time goes by, the drinker's surroundings tend to hold the drinker more responsible for his behavior, and the normal (and moral) condemnation of the behavior takes place.
The fact that counter reactions mainly are due to intoxicated behavior, explains why drinking is more controversial in some countries than in others.
The wine countries in the Mediterranean area have the world's highest per capita consumption of alcohol and the world's largest mortality from alcohol. In France, liver disease is ranked as number three among causes of death in males. The yearly death toll attributable to alcohol equals one of the nuclear bombs which were dropped over Japanese cities in 1945. Still, controversies nd concern over drinking remain modest in France.
On the other hand, controversies over drinking have been strong in a number of countries with a lower per capita consumption and a lower alcohol mortality. This applies to a part of the world which might be labeled the "booze belt" - Soviet Russia, Poland, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Scotland, Ireland, Iceland, the English-speaking Canada and in the melting pot USA, which has a mixture of several styles of drinking.
In these countries, alcohol use for the purpose of intoxication is common and drinking often makes other people suffer. The skepticism towards drinking is hardly due to "pietism", but rather to the intoxicated behavior that actually takes place.
In earlier times, the temperance movement was a mighty force in these countries. If we read the writings of the temperance movement, we find that the movement was not a "Popular movement for saving livers". The argumentation indicates that it was rather a "Popular movement for the protection of wives and children against husbands' ruthless intoxicated behavior".
In recent times, the frustration over harmful drinking has been channeled into alcoholism treatment and alcohol research. More than 90 % of the world's treatment and research is found within the "booze belt". At international congresses and seminars on alcohol problems, the Mediterranean countries have very small delegations, as opposed to the countries in the "booze belt", where the actual consumption is modest.
Thus, there is no doubt that counter reactions towards drinking are chiefly due to behavioral problems, not to health problems.
Firstly, it is argued that intoxicants dull people's minds. Professionals often label this phenomenon "impaired cognitive function".
The functions of the brain are impaired by large doses of most intoxicants. But this is the case with several other substances, and the capacity to physically do things is more severely impaired than the ability to remember behavioral norms. The peculiar aspect of common ideas about drugs of abuse is that they apparently gives a selective effect on remembering norms, while physical abilities and vigor are functioning unimpaired.
People are under the influence of sleeping pills almost as often as they are under the influence of alcohol. Sleeping pills are most often used by ordinary people, not drug addicts. The medicine only makes them tired. But although their minds are at least as "dull" as those of people who are drinking alcohol, their behavior does not indicate that they are unable to remember behavioral norms. We remember norms until we are fully asleep.
Thus, there is no necessary or natural connection between "dullness" and transgression of norms.
Secondly, it is argued that some drunk people do not remember things the day after. But this is no evidence that they had forgotten the norms while drunk. The memory seems to function as in senility (senile dementia). What primarily is lacking is not the ability to remember past events, but the ability to ingrain new impressions into one's memory.
This is clearly demonstrated by the commonly observed ability for drunk people to "sober up" if needed. Most people have observed this phenomenon, which can hardly be accounted for by chemical processes. We also hear drinkers say that "suddenly, I became sober", describing situations where unanticipated events made it very unwise to have lost one's inhibitions.
The answers may be found in surveys, which show that although people frequently criticize each other's behavior while drunk, they are generally well satisfied with their own behavior when intoxicated. In a Nordic study asking people questions about the consequences of their drinking for the last year, only 13.7 % regretted things that they had done while drinking. 4.8 % had done something they regretted more than twice.14
There is, of course, a larger percentage who have done something they regret while being sober. Thus, the tendency to do regrettable things during intoxication is very moderate. Far more people have used the privileges of intoxication to do pleasurable things:
If it were true that people under the influence "did not know what they were doing", events during intoxication would have happened by chance and seemed unintentional. People's reports from their own intoxication would have been accompanied by tears rather than by smiles. A large proportion would have regretted their intoxicated behavior and few people would have reported pleasurable experiences during intoxication, or gone on repeating the experience.
What we actually observe, is the opposite. If we ask people in the drinker's personal environment, the intoxicated behavior is frequently criticized. But although people often are critical towards other people's intoxicated behavior, they tend to be well satisfied with their own.
The studies demonstrate that the feeling that "Now-it-does-not-matter-that-much" is generally utilized in a pleasurable and highly intentional way. People obviously know what they are doing, they are only following the principles of lust and pleasure to a larger degree.
For most people who have been intoxicated, there is another road to acknowledgment of the truth - total honesty. Transgression of norms did not take place because the norms were forgotten, but because of the feeling that "now-it-does-not-matter". People who have been drunk, know for example that if somebody does not remember (because of alcohol) that rape is a wrongdoing, he is physically totally unable to carry it out.
People would, of course, not expose themselves to health risk, physical discomfort and large expense if they really did not know what they were doing!
The studies demonstrate that intoxicated people only in rare, exceptional
cases do things they regret. The main rule corresponds to the common observation:
Intoxication apparently produces an irresistible urge to follow one's
immediate impulses and desires. And people can certainly feel that
such a condition is worth a good deal of money and health risk.
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