Sexplanations: Alcohol Education is harm reduction

I think we all have the right to make our own decisions about our own bodies, and that includes whether we drink alcohol. I also think it is our right to make educated decisions. That is why I am a sexual health educator. I think it is a human right that we are provided with the information and knowledge to make the best sex and relationship decisions we can. So why are we not provided with the information and knowledge to make informed decisions about drinking alcohol?

Alcohol is a large part of our culture and social landscape, yet the only advice we get is, “drink responsibly.” This is not helpful or informative. Sex education does not increase sexual activity and alcohol education will not increase drinking, but it could help people make informed decisions about what they drink, how much they drink, when they drink, etc. With proper education, they could possibly avoid things such as getting sick, blacking out, passing out and having a shitty time. 

We know that ‘Just Say No’ campaigns do not work. People, especially young people, don’t just say no to sex, drugs and drinking, and may potentially say yes because they were told ‘no’, having sparked their curiosity and rebellious streak. We know that setting a legal drinking age does not prevent underage drinking, but it does prevent people under the age of 19 from reaching out for support for fear of getting into trouble for drinking or using other substances.  

Drinking education should of course include discussions and activities about peer pressure, consent and supporting friends一just like sex education. It should be pleasure positive, inclusive and age appropriate like comprehensive sex education, and it should include helpful tips, resources and promote safer drinking. 

Common information about tolerance, how much alcohol is in various drinks and how alcohol metabolizes in bodies should be shared. Less common information should also be shared一your tolerance changes depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle, how other substances such as prescription medication, cannabis and caffeine will interact with alcohol, and the effects of chugging, funneling and shots. 

Aftercare and reducing hangovers could be included, as well as how to prepare for a night out of drinking. Fun lessons in making good tasting drinks will be balanced with more serious topics such as alcohol being the number one date rape drug.   And of course, young people will be taught how to set boundaries, keep boundaries and respect other people’s boundaries around what they drink, when they drink and how much they drink. Discussions of choosing not to drink will be important, as well as how to be an active bystander when you see problematic behaviour. 

So there you have it, my proposal and argument for drinking education I wish I was given when I was young.