Paradoxical Features of Alcohol Consumption

We’ve been living with the Coronavirus Pandemic for several months now. In pursuit of public health and safety, in order to curb the spread of the menacing disease, much of American and international society has endured a lockdown of numerous ”non-essential” businesses, services, and institutions. Among the essential businesses still open have been liquor stores. Americans need booze. This essay does not argue one way or the other whether alcoholic beverages should remain fully available when many other types of commerce have been suspended. Rather, this is an examination of some aspects of adult beverages that appear paradoxical, seemingly contradictory factors that may be challenging to reconcile, as we deem alcoholic drinks to be necessary products in our society.

• The alcohol we consume in the form of brewed beer, fermented wine, and/or distilled spirits, is metabolized rather than digested by our bodies. That is, such beverages are absorbed into the bloodstream rather than processed by the intestinal tract. While we may consider such drinks to be “medicinal” to some extent, they actually do damage to the liver that is the primary filter of toxins in the body; the stomach, pancreas, and brain do some of that metabolic processing, too. Medical authorities, on the other hand, have pointed to much scientific evidence that indicates health benefits (i.e., stress relief along with prevention of high blood pressure, heart disease, and maybe cancer) with intake of one to two alcoholic beverages per day.
• We tend to drink some alcoholic beverages, especially beer, in response to thirst. But all drinks that contain alcohol are diuretic, stimulating the body to shed water, and thus cause dehydration rather than proper fluid balance in the body. (Thus, it is a good idea to drink plenty of water which not only hydrates the body but also serves to flush the liver and repair damage to it.)
• People often say that they “need” a drink when they feel down or stressed; the mind-altering, sedative effect of alcohol tends to mask worries and woes, at least temporarily. Alas, alcohol is a central nervous depressant; not only might it intensify feelings of depression, but its aftermath leaves consumers relatively more tired (for 48-72 hours), perhaps hungover and headachy, and less able to think clearly to solve the problems that led to the bad mood in the first place.
• Adult beverages can serve as effective social lubricants. By depressing inhibitions, they free up the consumer to be more talkative and friendly, less shy and constrained, in interpersonal settings. Conversations and camaraderie flow better with alcoholic drinks. Unfortunately, more liberal tongue wagging can include some regrettable words, verbal faux pas, and spillage of perceptions and feelings that can be insulting and hurtful to others.
• Some drinkers tend to get obnoxious, angry, and confrontational under the influence of alcohol. Others may get happy, gregarious, and fun-loving. Some get sleepy. There are “hybrids” of these personality patterns, of course, but the main point is that temperaments may change in a fluid manner.
• Red wine has been touted as perhaps the healthiest of various alcoholic beverages. However, a number of people, especially adult females, do not tolerate red wine well; they suffer histamine intolerance and allergy-like symptoms. White wine or other options cause fewer adverse reactions.
• Although its health benefits are supported by research, we all know that alcohol is responsible for the legal infraction of driving under the influence (DUI). Crashes happen. Drinking is also associated with accidental deaths, familial arguments, domestic violence, vandalism, and a wide range of antisocial behaviors. Many people die as a direct, or indirect, result of intake of alcohol.
• In most countries of the world, the minimum legal age at which one may purchase alcoholic beverages is eighteen years old. In much of Canada, that age is nineteen, in Japan it’s twenty, and it’s twenty-one in the USA, Indonesia, and most of India (where it may be as high as twenty-five in some regions). But there is no minimum age, across nearly all nations, at which consumption of alcohol, in private and even in many public settings, is prohibited. Children and adolescents may drink at any age (except in predominately Islamic countries and Mormon areas); they just can’t buy those drinks.
• We may choose to drink because of a natural, innate drive to alter consciousness; humans like variety in their lives, including their mental processing and perception. Or we may be motivated to drink by social convention, peer pressure, advertising, the lure of the many flavors and colors to be consumed, and a wide range of man-made marketing contrivances.
• When people say or do certain things under the influence of alcohol, they often get excused for any rude or immoral behaviors. We may not be considered responsible for our actions because of altered perception and personality. Yet it’s possible that people are painfully honest and speak the unvarnished truth when disinhibited by alcohol. We are considered culpable for illegal or unethical deeds triggered by alcohol, or at least held accountable for consuming too much booze in the first place.
• Alcohol is an addictive substance; regular usage is accompanied by growing tolerance, habitual (often increasing) consumption, and withdrawal upon cessation. When a drinking problem is felt, diagnosed, or proven by the consequences of alcohol intake (e.g., chronically heavy drinking, periodic binging, antisocial behavior that damages property and relationships), an individual might best seek abstinence. An alcohol rehabilitation center may be necessary to aid the “drying out” process. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a famous organization that can help alcohol avoidance. Yet another option may be temperance, a moderate level of social drinking with a sense of self-control. Moderation.org is a source of such a program that can promote alcoholic self-regulation.

In recognition of the evils of alcohol, there was movement to ban liquor in the U.S. during the 19th century. Prohibition was later accomplished by the 18th Amendment to the Constitution which blocked the production, importation, transportation, and sale of intoxicating beverages in the country from 1920 to 1933. Americans, as we know, did not take well to that ban; it was violated by people in many ways. Since Prohibition was overturned, alcoholic beverages have flowed freely (well, for a price) in our country and across the globe. People like to drink. The advantages and enjoyment of consuming alcohol clearly outweigh the risks as far as humans are concerned. Adult beverages, in their myriad forms, are here to stay. Drink wisely.

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