“So, I always drink responsibly and still control my actions and remember them,” he said.

A 2002 graduate of St. Joseph School in Wauwatosa, Schueller remembers partaking in the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program, where he learned the dangers of drugs, alcohol and how to say, “No.” He also remembers talking about alcohol at Wauwatosa West High School, “but it was nothing I ever really thought about or would say was overly effective because it wasn’t anything I did or worried about,” Schueller said, adding that his nights were dedicated to after-school activities, work or homework.

He gives most credit for the way he uses alcohol today to his upbringing and his parents’ drinking patterns; they didn’t really drink much.

“…I never have seen a family member I respected growing up abusing alcohol,” Schueller said. “Plus, I feel that the other issues I had growing up with my parents – being a middle child – would only have been worse if I had started drinking regularly or abusing alcohol.”

Schueller, a theology major who wants to work as a youth minister, said he didn’t remember the church teaching him anything about alcohol when he was growing up, but that he’s seen teenagers struggle with alcohol through his work with them in the Catholic formation courses and from leading retreats.

“This is often due to a larger issue, like depression or peer pressure and, often, with these other issues, causes turbulence in one’s relationship with God,” Schueller said.

The Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that a standard drink in the United States “is any drink that contains 0.6 ounces (13.7 grams or 1.2 tablespoons) of pure alcohol.” The amount is equivalent to:

  • 12 ounces regular beer/wine cooler
  • 8 ounces malt liquor
  • 5 ounces wine
  • 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits or liquor (gin, rum, vodka, whiskey)

The CDC also states that binge drinking is a single occasion of:

  • Four or more drinks for women
  • Five or more drinks for men

And heavy drinking is a daily average of:

  • More than one drink for women
  • More than two drinks for men

Fr. Joe Juknialis, pastor of Shepherd of the Hills Parish in Eden, who recently joined the Campbellsport-Eden task force on drug and alcohol abuse in March, said some people’s lives have been marked with the disease of alcoholism as a way to solve problems like depression or another conflict in their lives. The task force was specifically formed to focus on the use of alcohol and drugs like prescription medication among children and teens, but no matter who is abusing alcohol, Fr. Juknialis said there’s usually an underlying issue or conflict.

“It seems like it’s got nothing to do with alcohol, but often enough, if as we sit and talk about it, one thing leads to another and if I asked them, ‘Well, is alcohol an issue, or does that present problems?’ and then they will talk about how that is so that it is, I think it’s, very, very common that alcohol, that excessive drinking and alcoholism, often becomes (or) is the root of other dysfunctional aspects of parish life, of family life,” he said, adding that the church’s position is not that alcohol is wrong, but that it needs to be “used responsibly and in a way that does not detract from the purpose of events.”

In his work with different parishes throughout the years, Fr. Juknialis said parishes have struggled to ensure alcohol is used responsibly but that they always addressed any issues.

“At least parishes that I’ve been at I don’t think they’ve ever closed their eyes to irresponsible use of alcohol. I think sometimes we’ve pulled back on its presence at events,” he said.

At many church events – fish fries, carnivals, festivals – alcohol is present, but like Fr. Juknialis, Schueller agrees that it’s OK to serve it as long as people drink responsibly. Schueller also said that while programs could easily be held without the presence of alcohol, there are some good programs where the beverage is used responsibly.

“I have seen some great programs for adults, like Theology on Tap, that was open to only adults 21 (plus) that served alcohol, all kept in moderation. It is when we start allowing people to abuse alcohol at events that I feel it becomes an issue,” Schueller said.
Theology on Tap, a speaker series offered to adults in their 20s and 30s, is offered through the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s John Paul II Center’s Nazareth Project for marriage and family formation.

Jenni Oliva, associate director of the Nazareth Project, said that the Theology on Tap program, which first came to the archdiocese nine or 10 years ago and is modeled after the original program begun in Chicago 30 years ago, uses alcohol responsibly by having people check identification and issue wrist bands to those attendees who are of legal drinking age.

Although alcohol is offered, Oliva said it isn’t the focus for the young adults who attend the presentations. “It’s really that it’s a more of a relaxed atmosphere, so it happens in bars or restaurants or even in a parish hall. Alcohol is available and beer or wine,” Oliva said, adding that it’s really just something that’s available for people to drink. “The number one beverage that is drunk the most is water; really, I mean like if a site has bottled water, that’s the thing that runs out every night.”

It’s a relaxed atmosphere, there’s free food and drink and a chance to meet other young adults, Oliva said. “It is a time for young adults to learn about their faith in a different atmosphere than it would be in a classroom, so, and I think that’s originally when it was produced back 25 or 30 years ago in Chicago, that was the idea that it was going to be a relaxed atmosphere outside of the church building or outside of a classroom,” she said.

In the approximately 32 talks in the series on anything Catholic, Oliva said an average of about 50 young adults attended each time, whether or not alcohol was available. The relaxed locations, Oliva said, draw practicing Catholics and seekers or people who maybe haven’t attended church in awhile and who maybe feel more comfortable in that setting.

“Our sites – they are very responsible with the alcohol side of this. If it’s at (an) establishment that is a bar or restaurant, everyone is carded as coming in; same thing for if it’s being held at the parish site,” Oliva said. “…it’s just the normal routine of how those bars work, but that’s the one thing we are very responsible about that.”

The church, according to Fr. Juknialis, has the responsibility to educate children and young adults because it goes hand in hand with education, whether public or private. In his work with couples who are approaching marriage and in asking them if they think it’s wrong to get drunk, Fr. Juknialis said that many feel drinking too much is OK as long as they don’t drive.

“Even young adults who are of the age of 21 don’t seem to think that there’s anything problematic about getting drunk as long as you’re not driving,” he said. “…I think … it isn’t something that we just deal with adults, I think we need to deal with that responsibly with children in the grade school bringing them up with that and in the high school and in religious education programs, but also in the public education system of just being responsible adults in our community.” he said.

Carol Huck, a teacher at St. Mary’s Springs Academy High School in Fond du Lac, said she covers the topic of alcohol abuse and poor sexual decisions in classes like health, and when talking about the sacrament of marriage and morality. She also works with 12 students on the Assist Survivors Treatment Outreach Prevention (ASTOP) committee for sexual assault awareness month, where they discuss issues with sexual assaults, decision-making and alcohol.

“The focus is on both levels the abuse of alcohol…looking at what’s social drinking, what’s misuse, what’s abuse and what becomes addiction for alcohol, and talking about behaviors that certainly are happening with young people in terms of drinking with misuse and abuse of alcohol and tying always in each of the areas to, of course, what that means in terms of making poor decisions regarding one’s sexual behavior and often leading to sexual behavior under the influence,” Huck said.

During the health unit last year, Huck had a recovering alcoholic come into her class to give a presentation on his journey with alcoholism. St. Mary’s, Huck said, is also working to have an all-school assembly that would explain and share the journey and healing of someone recovering from alcoholism with all students. While the high school doesn’t have a formal program for students who may have to deal with alcoholism in some form in their lives, they do have a peer helper group that trains with two area public high schools. “In there it is an issue of recognizing and helping teens to make positive decisions; it’s part of the direction (of) that organization and that comes through, in terms of being facilitated, I would say more through counseling. And so if there was an issue that arose, what they would have been trained is who do you go to, to get that information so that there can be follow up to help this person have intervention,” she explained.

In teaching morality classes, Huck said the issue of alcohol abuse is about self-control and respect. “Respecting the body that has been given to you and the alcohol piece that I do with them comes out of the chapter where we do other respect issues – suicide, eating disorders, and then alcohol,” Huck said, in addition to sexuality and respect life issues. “…so, that certainly would come in, in terms of what we’re called to do in the Commandments in taking care of our body and honoring God by what we do with our body.”

Huck said the most beneficial practices and those that have the most impact are programs or assemblies done right away to address issues, which result in a change for a little while before they go back to the behaviors. While it’s hard to tell exactly how much an impact things she teaches have on the students, Huck hopes it’s benefiting them somehow.

“I think you’re giving them another tool to come back to and hold onto that it might help them to make a better decision in the future,” she said, explaining that the messages she’s teaching are important because they counter the messages students are getting from culture.

Brian Zanin, a campus minister at the Newman Center on the UW-Whitewater campus, said that alcohol abuse and binge drinking concerns exist on all campuses, including his, “but in a special way on the campuses in the state of Wisconsin,” he said.  “It seems like there’s some pretty clear research that across the nation we have here in Wisconsin some of the highest rates of alcohol abuse or binge drinking.”

Much of what Huck said she teaches her high school students, Zanin said he discusses with students at the college level.

“In our programming, but also just in conversation, I mean we certainly encourage people to follow the law as it relates to underage drinking…and then drinking responsibly for those who are of age, so, if we’re in a position where there’s alcohol involved if we’re at like a parish dinner or something along those lines, those are our expectations,” he said.

In a larger pastoral sense, Zanin said they talk about responsibility and control over one’s self and the sin and difficulties that can be associated with choices made by those under the influence, and that binge drinking, abusing alcohol and blacking out don’t have to be a part of the college experience. The Newman Center offers that accepting atmosphere free from perceptions of how alcohol should be used or abused at the college level.

“From a ministry standpoint, one of the things that I want to provide and that I think we as church on campus should provide is a place where people can talk about these issues but can also find a place where they’re supported in the decision not to abuse alcohol or binge drink,” Zanin said. “I think it’s fair to say that many of our students who are involved in our ministry are looking for a place where they can be supported in that decision and are looking for friends and social circles and a faith community that supports that.”

While Zanin makes referrals for students to get help offered through collaboration with the university’s health and counseling services, because in many cases young people have some real pain in their lives that needs to be addressed and not numbed with substances, he said the spiritual aspect is also important.

“Our faith gives us a lot of strength and courage when it comes to making difficult decisions and I think the decision to not abuse alcohol, to not binge drink, I think that’s (courageous), that can oftentimes be a courageous decision that someone makes in college,” Zanin said. “…but I think, too, our faith kind of in having some spiritual strength helps us focus on what are the things that really make  us happy and I think that it sort of combats or confronts this notion on campuses which says the only way to have fun is to get hammered. The only way to meet people is to go out drinking and I think when you’re serious about your faith, when you’re trying to walk with the Lord, I think it kind of exposes some of those things and helps you really look at them critically and say, ‘Well, is this really what makes me happy? …Do I really feel good about myself and what I do?’”

Nathan Sward, 29, said in college he often wondered about others’ habits – asking the same question that Zanin said young adults should ask themselves, “Why do you think that is fun? You seem to regret it after each time you do this,” and yet Sward said that students pick up the practice in college and that it often follows them into their early professional lives.

In an e-mail interview with MyFaith, Sward, who was raised in a family that had little alcohol abuse, said that he had a short bout with underage drinking as recreation in high school; he ended that by abstaining for a few years.
“After that, I have rediscovered it as something I enjoy very much in moderation,” he said.

Sward, like other young adults, said that as long as people understand that alcohol must be used responsibly at events, the church practice of serving it as a beverage is OK.

Though he doesn’t remember the issue of alcoholism being discussed much when he was in school, he said his Catholic background definitely affects the decisions he makes about his use of alcohol.

“We are not puritanical about alcohol. It isn’t alcohol that is evil; the evil is in the person’s decision to abuse it,” he said. “Catholic culture has, by and large, appreciated alcohol, while demanding that it be used responsibly and with moderation.”

A new way to combat drinking and driving
A program developed in January by the Green Bay police and the public safety division of Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay, has Green Bay police handing out photographs and information about people who were killed by drunk drivers to people who are arrested for operating while intoxicated. Lt. Brad Florence, who has worked for the Green Bay Police Department for 20 years, said that he learned of the program from one being conducted by the Illinois Department of Transportation called, “Faces of Speed,” where troopers could hand out 3×8” cards depicting scenes and pictures of victims that were killed at these scenes as a result of speeding. “We modified the Faces of Speed program to our needs, called the “Faces of OWI,” he said in an e-mail interview with MyFaith. “Our folders depict the faces of people killed in drunk driving crashes. One face that we use is that of a Green Bay officer’s daughter who was killed by a drunk driver. As you can see the Green Bay Police Department has a little extra motivation to make our streets safe from the drunk driver.”

The purpose of the program is also to “personify the crime of drunk driving,” Lt. Florence said. “These victims are something that an OWI arrestee may never get a chance to see – what the consequences are of their act,” he said. While Lt. Florence said that he lets the officers decide when to hand out the information cards, which were donated  – the card stock, layout, printing and shipping costs – by the Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, they all try to focus on the people whom the information will have the greatest impact.

The newness of the program makes it hard to measure impact it may have had on anyone thus far, and, according to Lt. Florence, it may be difficult to measure impact at all. “But as I mentioned earlier, we like to think that we made an impact somewhere,” he said. “Whether it is to reduce the recidivism rate, or maybe that arrestee will assist a friend into making the right choice. We truly believe the impacts will be felt somewhere and by someone, but we may never know who that person is. There is only one person that knows what his (God’s) plan is for us. If we can prevent that plan from coming at the hands of a drunk driver, we feel that is a victory.”

The 18-24-year-old age group will be most impacted by the Faces of OWI program, Lt. Florence said, though it’s meant for all ages, because that age group is responsible for the largest number of vehicle and alcohol-related crashes. So, then, what is the answer to the best way to impact young adults when it comes to responsible use of alcohol and combating a culture of drinking and binge drinking today? “Drinking in Wisconsin is such a cultural thing. It is hard to change the culture of anything. So, these are the million dollar questions, to which I have no answers,” Lt. Florence said. “I think the greatest teachers in a person’s life as they grow (older) are the parent or guardian. The people you live with have the greatest impact 24/7. If positive examples can be displayed in the home, they certainly can be (in)grained. Assuming this is taking place in the home, the next important teachers are peers. By picking and choosing people who make the right choices will allow you to make the right choices.

“Several years ago, there was a popular commercial whose catch phrase was, ‘You are what you eat.’ Well, in the case, ‘You are who you hang out with.’ Whether it is your parents or guardians or your friends. These are the people with whom the majority of time is spent. If you have quality people to associate with, you will, no doubt, make quality decisions.”

The biggest impact, according to one young adult
Andrea Mills, 21, a junior studying theology at Marian University, said that several teachings throughout her life have had impact on her decision not to drink or to drink responsibly. Mills didn’t drink during her years at Kimberly High School in Kimberly, because of what her mother taught her at home and from what her health class teacher said. “His quote was, ‘The decisions you make today will affect the quality of your life tomorrow.'” Mills said in an e-mail interview with MyFaith. “My mom also sent my sisters and I e-mails of stories about people who drank and their consequences,” beyond not drinking in front of the girls and stressing that alcohol killed brain cells.

Mills joined the “Promise Makers” club in high school, which was for students who promised not to drink alcohol or do drugs. During her sophomore year, she remembers when a young man talk to the group about the consequences of his drunk driving. “Speakers and stories of consequences to drinking had the most impact on me. Telling me not to drink, in high school, because we wouldn’t play (sports) if we got caught wasn’t effective because there were always athletes drinking underage and nothing ever happened to them,” Mills said. The information that impacted Mills the most came from people like: speakers who can give first-hand accounts of why young adults shouldn’t drink and drive or drink until they black out; her mother who taught that alcohol can cause one to lose control of his or her body and make mistakes, and through her mother’s actions of not drinking in front of her children, or stopping after two mixed glasses. Mills said that her driver’s education course teaching about the consequences of driving under the influence had the least impact, especially when the consequences for being pulled over for drunk driving in Wisconsin aren’t as bad as those of other states. 

Being Catholic also has impacted the way she has used alcohol in college. Although she has overindulged, Mills said she doesn’t ever want to drink too much so that she loses control, leading her to behaviors that are against her beliefs, like premarital sex or drugs. “I don’t go out every weekend and when I do go out, I make sure not to drink more than I should,” Mills explained of how she uses alcohol responsibly and lives out her faith. “Furthermore, I don’t go out with people who go out specifically to get drunk. I make sure before we go out that if anybody is getting out of hand, we get them to stop drinking. I always make sure there is a designated driver before I start drinking if our place of residence is farther than a short walk away.” Mills also remembers that her mother asked her and her sisters that if they drink they don’t drive or drink so much that they lose control of their senses.

Church teaching has taught Mills that it’s OK to drink, but that “we shouldn’t need to depend on anything other than our Lord.” Mills also said that alcohol at church events may show a different side of the church. “It’s sad, but I think the alcohol shows that we aren’t all about rules,” Mills said. “It allows for us to show that Catholics can and do have fun with reason of drinking alcohol.” But she also said that the church could stress “God is watching,” or something similar.

In her own young adult life, Mills said a spiritual director has come in handy. “I think the church needs to offer more spiritual directors. I don’t think enough young people know where to go to when they want to talk to someone.”