Alcohol, drugs and punishment: how can we prompt smarter conversations?

Substance abuse is one of the most common health challenges in the United States — especially among young adults. Many, however, feel that there is not enough public discussion about how to prevent substance abuse and how to deal with people who commit crimes or in other ways harm other people while under the influence of alcohol and drugs. In legal circles, there is active debate about how to titrate a mixture of punishment and rehabilitation to deal with this problem. What can journalists do to focus public attention on these issues? How should the public be talking about them?

Here are some links to articles about these issues, including a few stories that focus on how theses issues are handled in one large college town: Ann Arbor, Michigan. What questions do these articles raise for you about journalism and public debate on alcohol, drugs and punishment?

One trend related to substance abuse that’s gotten a lot of play in the media recently is the increase in binge drinking among women and girls. What do you think of this story from webmd.com — and how the media generally has covered this trend?

This story from Mlive.com explains why Ann Arbor’s judges decided to try a sobriety court as well as other kinds of specialized court dockets. Nice kicker.

Here’s a short story from AnnArbor.com updating readers on the successes of the city’s sobriety court and telling about a rally to support similar courts across the state.

Here’s a primer from the National Association of Drug Court Professionals on the spread of the drug court movement.

This piece in the Baltimore Sun includes some criticism of drug courts.

This opinion piece rebuts the previous piece, giving the author’s opinion on why drug courts work well.

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About emiliaaskari

Journalist, teacher, news game designer. Promoting digital literacy and content creation in the public interest.

5 Responses to “Alcohol, drugs and punishment: how can we prompt smarter conversations?”

  1. The story about women and binge drinking seemed quite week to me. It did not go anywhere or come from anywhere aside from the fact that it is a problem that women binge drink. I think it should have talked about why they do. Why are white women from higher income brackets more likely to binge drink? The article should have interviewed some women who binge drink to see why they do it and to make the story more interesting. Also the article mentioned counselling to ward off binge drinking from becoming a habit, but it did not say why this helps. I am interested to know why women are binge drinking, I think it is cultural pressure to fit in, therefore I would suggest that a solution would be altering the culture for women at that time in their lives…there could be a campaign like “just say no” that helps raise awareness…or other programs to address the root cause of the problem.

  2. In order to focus public attention on the issues of substance abuse, real attention must be paid to the stories of those affected by it. There are plenty of stories to tell when it comes to this issue. Blame should not be put on the sufferers of substance abuse because that is not a proper way to fix the problem. Rather, those affected by it must be shown that what they are doing is not healthy for them. Often when people have an addiction they cannot take perspective on what it is they are doing is bad for them.
    The webMD story does a poor job of making the issue personal and relatable. The statistics are shocking, but I want to hear about the problems of substance abuse from real women and girls. As a female college student I know personally plenty of stories, including one of my closest friends. It’s the media’s job to uncover them so that some action can be done to help control it.
    The main issue with substance abuse is that it can take something enjoyable, like having a drink with a friend over dinner, and turn it into something dangerous for the body and mind. The age-old saying, “everything is good in moderation,” should be stressed. Abuse means misuse, and these stories must address that, including why the trends have been on the rise and what can be done to reverse them.

  3. The controversy over whether or not drug courts work is intriguing. As soon as I read the Ann Arbor article I began thinking about how it would function in my hometown in rural northern Michigan. The Baltimore Sun article reflected many of my thoughts- mostly on the time, money, and resources it seems like drug courts would need to work effectively.

    These are tough public health issues that don’t have clear answers. I think that drug courts are making progress towards better ways to address these long term problems. Implementing them first in communities that have the resources and funds to sustain them such as Ann Arbor is useful to identify inefficiencies and problems before instating them in communities of less socioeconomic status. These areas are in the most need of help because the drug problems are high but there are fewer resources to help address them.

    I’m curious about its implementation so the visit to the sobriety court this week will be interesting.

  4. My main issue with the way addiction and substance abuse is covered is that there tends to be a bias in the way it’s covered. When it’s well-off white young adults who are abusing substances it’s covered as a health issue but when it’s young people of color from a lower socioeconomic demographic who are abusing substances it’s characterized as criminal. This bias has a huge impact on the way substance abuse is dealt with in the judicial system- i.e.: is the substance abuser going to be sent to jail or rehab? This human rights watch report details the distribution of who is doing drugs and who is going to jail for it http://www.hrw.org/news/2009/06/19/race-drugs-and-law-enforcement-united-states#_A._Arrests_and. The results are disturbing but unsurprising.

    I think the unconscious bias that the report touches on is the result of journalists covering substance abuse differently. The article you posted about women (from a high income background) exemplifies this bias. Even though women still don’t binge drink at the levels men do http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/08/health/women-binge-drinking it’s seen as more shocking that upper middle class women are doing it (could cause more unintended pregnancies! Why isn’t that seen as a men’s issue too? They’re the ones getting these women pregnant…) Instead of criminalizing underage women binge drinking (which I don’t think they should!) the both articles suggest that more education and medical interventions should be used to combat this epidemic. When it’s well-off women, it’s seen as a public health issue. I wish the young black and Hispanic men’s substance abuse problems were treated the same, but according to the hrw report that isn’t true. Maybe the sobriety courts could help turn substance abuse into a public health issue as opposed to the failed war on drugs disproportionate criminalization of people of color, but I’d like to do more research. Either way, the media should take more care on how they frame these issues and continue to perpetuate stereotypes that have real world implications.

  5. jacquelinegamache Reply March 28, 2013 at 1:56 am

    I have a younger family member who has repeatedly been in and out of sobriety court. Alcoholism certainly runs in our family and he refuses to acknowledge the fact that he behaved differently than his unpunished peers. Unfortunately, mass media blatantly glorifies drug use and drinking without ever demonstrating the consequences. I do believe that sobriety court can help some, but not everyone. In my cousin’s instance, it has given him structure and forced accountability. Yet, it has not required him to analyze his behavior and determine if he has an issue.

    I agree with Liz that the article on women binge drinking fails to really analyze the situation. The glaring question that goes unanswered is “Are women more honest when answer questions about how much they drink than men?” I believe the results might be surprising.

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