Scott Cawelti

About Scott Cawelti -

Scott Cawelti was born and raised in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He taught writing, film, and literature at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) from 1968-2008, and has written regular opinion columns and reviews for the Waterloo / Cedar Falls Courier since the late 1970s.  He played for years in a folk duo with Robert James Waller and still regularly performs as a singer/guitarist/songwriter. Scott continues to teach as an adjunct instructor at UNI.



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  • Attention All Drinkalotics

    • Posted on Jan 19, 2014 by Scott Cawelti
    This appeared in the Sunday Courier today (Jan. 18) and grew out of personal experience--namely, a terrible New Year's Day.   Radical moderation works for me.  
    Certain acts are illegal and/or harmful, yet vast numbers of us do them anyway.  Speeding.  Littering.  Appropriating employers’ property for personal use. 

    Most of all, drinking.  Alcohol, that is.  Good ol’ Al, my friend and yours.  He’s invited to every party, dinner, celebration, and sports event on the planet.   And he attends them all.  

    No news there.  Except that last week, the Head of the Centers for Disease Control issued a report that flat-out asserts we drink too much.  We’re not alcoholics so much as drinkalotics. 

    We stop long before passing out, but not before feeling really, really happy.  And thinking we’re very, very witty. 

    Until the next morning, when we feel like dog pucky.     

    Here’s the problem, according to the CDC: Few doctors ask patients about their drinking habits.  As long as they’re not passing out nightly, they’re doing fine.  Yet “social” or “moderate” drinkers are often heavy imbibers, don’t admit it, and happy their doctors don’t ask.

    At least 38 million Americans down too much alcohol, according to this new CDC report.

    How much is too much?  Drinkers, listen up:  more than one drink in 24 hours for women, and more than two for men.   If you’re drinking more, you’re a heavy drinker, says the CDC and other studies on alcohol consumption. In the long haul, that’s big trouble for heart and liver problems, cancer, relationships, jobs, lost potential.  

    A dear departed doctor friend of mine enjoyed a glass of wine or three now and then.  As a doctor he used to joke, “an alcoholic is anyone who drinks more than their doctor.”  We both found his definition amusing, since that meant none of his patients were alcoholics.

    He enjoyed his wine—and his life—immensely.   But he did understand moderation, and kept it under control.  We seldom binged, meaning five or more drinks within two hours.  Many drinkers consider that the start of a good night.  

    I have my issues with Al, though.   On a particularly bad morning last year—after a long hearty party, I noticed that everything about me was impaired.   Memory, energy, mood, outlook, all gone dark and negative.  It felt like a nasty case of flu, both physically and mentally.

    Not pleasant.  I made a list of all those impairments and created this acronym:  MEMHOC, to rhyme with “hemlock.”   Memory, energy, mood, health, outlook, clarity.  All seriously impaired or distorted. 

    So why not quit?   If Al makes us sick, why keep him around?  Good question, and easily answered:  He’s fun.  Really fun, and in small doses, even behaves like a health tonic.

    Up to two drinks, that is.  After that, Al’s poison.

    That’s the dilemma with alcohol.   When we drink two wonderful glasses of wine with dinner, a huge desire arises for a third.  And a fourth.  Then pass the fifth.   Then pass out.

    Vast numbers of drinkers actually drink heavily, bingeing several times monthly.  

    For them, in all its ugliness, addiction looms.

    Radical moderation is in order, and oxymoronic though that phrase may be, it’s the only sensible approach to keeping ol’ Al around without major health issues.  

    For all drinkers who think they’re drinking moderately, here’s a two-step idea:  First, quit for seven days.   Cold turkey, and immediately. 

    This will tell you how much you crave Al’s company.  If you feel lost and upset, or just can’t do it, you have a poisonous relationship. 
    Second, if you only miss him slightly around dinnertime, invite him back for short visits. Once, maybe twice occasionally.  Never more.  I guarantee better memory, energy, mood, health, outlook, and clarity.  A better life, overall. 

    Ol’ Al makes a fine friend--but a terrible roommate.    



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    • alcohol
  • Why College Students Get Wasted

    • Posted on Sep 25, 2005 by Scott Cawelti


     UNI’s Homecoming rapidly approaches, so it’s not too early to ponder drunken college students. In fact, it’s never too early, since there are so many of them.

    Just kidding, sort of.  I’m thinking about it because of an extended discussion last week about “getting wasted” with seventeen UNI juniors and seniors in one of my classes.  I wanted to demonstrate a group brainstorming technique, so I asked two questions:  Why are college students so attracted to alcohol? What can be done about it?  They jotted all the answers they could individually, then after about ten minutes, shared and discussed.

    To be fair, four of the students insisted they were either teetotalers or extreme moderates—pardon the oxymoron—and couldn’t relate to the “alcohol culture,” as one of them put it. Not all college students equate fun with alcohol. 

    For those who do, answers came fast.  Within those ten minutes, the class wrote 39 quickly-generated answers to the “why” question.  When pared down for overlaps and similarities, seven reasons for getting wasted emerged:   (1) they escape from stresses with a legal anesthetic that tastes good; (2) they feel peer pressure;  (3) they find that alcohol makes the routine and homely seem exciting and pretty; (4) they seek a relatively cheap “high”;   (5) they need to sow a few wild oats; (6) they feel free to experiment with forbidden adult pleasures and (7) they never learned moderation. 

    The other reasons were either minor or subsets of one these seven.             

    By the way, these are good-natured, articulate students, who speak with intelligence and humor.  No slackers or serious drunks among them, at least from appearances.

    But they all talked at times about “getting wasted,” and how they pound down drinks as if there’s no tomorrow.  Getting stupid with alcohol ranks as their favorite recreational activity.

    So what can we do about it?  Actually, two or three weren’t sure anything needed to be done.  College students have always sought refuge in spirits and suds, and always will—so they said.

    Even so, students listed a surprising number of solutions ranging from the creative (don’t allow alcohol to be sold anywhere near campus) to the draconian (no tolerance of any underage drinking, with immediate expulsion as a penalty) to the whimsical (make alcohol illegal after they turn 21, so they become sober, hard-working adults).

    To my surprise, no one mentioned alcohol counseling or Alcoholics Anonymous, and when I asked, they asserted that they weren’t alcoholics, just binge drinkers. They’re good friends with ol’ Al, but not roommates.  Again, so they said.

    The best solution, most of them agreed, comes down to teaching moderation at the earliest possible age.  One of them mentioned that he grew up in a moderate drinking family, so he sipped an occasional beer or wine with meals.  When he came to college, he had no interest in getting drunk. He enjoyed a couple of drinks, and that was it.

    He had grown into a rare species: A college student who drinks responsibly.

    In fact, this student behaved like German and Swedish students I taught when I lived in Germany and Sweden. They weren’t above an occasional binge, but not often.  Most of the time they drank responsibly and moderately when growing up, and this habit followed them into adulthood.  They also believed that getting drunk was unhealthy and stupid, not funny or rites of passage as those retro boys from last week’s column seem to think.  

    After our discussion, the next class day, a student who had turned 21 the previous week proudly talked about how “wasted” she had gotten over the weekend.  So much for the educational power of classroom discussions.

    Here’s why we should all find this casual attitude disturbing:  An estimated 1,400 college students are killed every year in alcohol-related accidents, according to a large CNN study back in 2002.  That doesn’t count suicides and homicides, nor does it countfamily members whose lives are irretrievably shattered by the needless death of their promising young.  

    Alcohol abuse is no joke, and until we at least teach moderation, we will have to endure more students getting wasted.  Literally.    



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    • alcohol
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