Humans have a rather curious relationship with alcohol. There are people that argue that alcohol is good for us, often times claiming that it is a panacea. Wine has been recommended by doctors for years to help prevent heart disease, gin was originally a medicinal tonic, and monks consumed beer during times of fasting for nutritional purposes. One of my favorite books, 'A History of the World in 6 Glasses' by Tom Standage, discusses the power that alcohol had in the evolution of human agriculture and society. Without beer, wine, and spirits our world as we know it would not exist.
Look at the other side of this coin and you’ll find alcohol rehabilitation clinics, people with liver damage from excessive drinking, families ruined by alcohol abuse and domestic violence, and countless other examples of the negative effects of alcohol.
So is alcohol a good or a bad thing?
The answer is: both.
Alcohol has a tremendous range of positive effects on the body, mind, and spirit. A wide range of medical studies has shown correlations (not causation) between moderate consumption of alcohol and positive health effects. Alcohol can act as a positive social lubricant by helping people feel more comfortable in social interactions. Alcohol can nourish our soul by transmitting to us the hard work, tradition, and culture of a people as well as the energy of the plants that provide the raw ingredients.
Alcohol can also harm our body, mind, and spirit. Over consumption of alcohol can result in liver and heart disease, certain types of cancers, gout, seizures, and even stroke. Acute overconsumption can even result in alcohol poisoning and death. Alcohol abuse can lead to memory loss, anxiety, and can lower inhibitions, leading to dangerous decisions. Alcohol addiction is a big problem in many cultures and it is a hard problem to fight. Abuse of alcohol can truly destroy a person, rotting them from the inside out.
So why is it that alcohol can be both the greatest health tonic and the greatest threat to a person’s health? As any good toxicologist will tell you: the dose makes the poison. This page from ChemicalSafetyFacts.org does a great job of visualizing this concept. Water, the most precious, life giving substance we have is actually lethal if too much is consumed.
So how does this all translate to alcohol? Well the key word here is moderation. Each study that claims that wine or alcohol is a panacea will always use the phrase: “when consumed in moderation”. 1-2 glasses of wine per day (depending on your own personal physiology) can be tremendously healthy for you, however, that third glass can negate all of those benefits and actually cause damage to your system. Unfortunately, the reality is that the more you drink each day, the worse off your body will be. That first glass of wine may be the best health tonic that you can consume, the second glass may have marginal gains in health, and the third glass could actually be poison.
There is a very thin line between wellness and illness when it comes to alcohol. Alcohol and alcohol abuse is so pervasive that almost all of us know what it looks like. Many of us have friends or family members who have had problems with alcohol, and if we haven’t, we have most certainly encountered people at a bar, restaurant, or even on the street suffering from abuse. Alcohol is so common in our society, in our restaurants, and in our advertisements, yet hardly anyone is truly taught how to find their version of balance. I myself have struggled to find, and maintain my balance. I have gone through periods of abstinence, excess, and everything in between. My journey to strike this balance continues, but there is one question that helps me to work toward that ideal state: why do I drink?
In my next post I will discuss some ideas and strategies on finding that balance, but I suggest that you ask yourself that same question: why do you drink?