Of Man and Drink

Alcohol and society have a fascinating relationship.

Alcohol and society have a fascinating relationship.

Alcohol is a funny thing. It costs a lot. You can’t drink too much of it. And if you are caught drinking too much of it while driving a motor vehicle, you are liable to get yourself into a mountain load of trouble.

So what’s the appeal?

The answer is pretty simple. Alcoholic drinks can be very tasty. Good beer, as opposed to cheap watered down garbage like Bud Light or Keystone Light, can be a delicious treat every once in a while. One cannot drink too much beer out of the danger of developing a “beer belly” as so many middle-aged folk suffer from. But nevertheless, a good quality brew during a tasty meal is very hard to beat.

But, there are of course downsides to every good thing. Consuming too much alcohol can be hazardous to your health in multiple ways. It can damage your liver, your brain, and your relationships with your loved ones. It can also lead to you losing your job, losing your insurance, and one too many trips to the hospital. The dangers are endless.

But this is not a blog post about the dangers of drinking and driving. There are plenty of other places to read about that. Hopefully this will be more worth your time. It is worth thinking about the complex, fascinating, and tumultuous relationship society has had with alcohol over the years, and continues to have today.

Alcohol was first created thousands of years ago as a way for human being to be able to drink a beverage that they knew would be free of toxins, germs, and other inconvenient impurities. In the times of Jesus of Nazareth, two thousand years ago, everyone drank wine because they did not have the water purification systems in place that we enjoy today. There were no Roman Empire desalination plants or water engineers whose jobs were to guarantee every citizen clean drinking water.

Instead, a distilled drink had to be the way to go. Of course, many believe the wine in Jesus’ time was no stronger than bitter grape juice, but that is beside the point. Drinking alcohol was trendy out of necessity, not because everyone in those days were wine connoisseurs. They weren’t French, were they?

Today, wine is stronger than it was in ages past. And so are the choices. Today alcohol is a choice drink, not the only beverage on the market. For most people, alcohol is a treat; a drink that one enjoys every so often, not all the time. No one has the money, tolerance, or ability to drink alcohol all the time everyday.

Despite the opening up of other beverage options, and despite the long history human beings have had with the drink, social problems involving alcohol still persists today. The United States government tried to shut down alcohol production during the Prohibition era. Temperance movements to curb excessive drinking were considered noble causes. Today we would accuse someone like that of being prudish, Puritanical, or sheltered.

But prohibition was eventually lifted. Too much bathtub gin and other forms of moonshine made banning alcohol both impractical and silly. Banning it will not make it go away. Governments have tried to discourage excessive drinking since the days of the Persian Empire. But the problems still comes back time and time again. People, as long as alcohol is available, will drink too much for whatever reasons they might have.

So public drunkenness and other societal dangers of inebriation are nothing new. And society has tried to crack down on these problems for just as long. But none of these efforts will make alcohol go away. Wine, beer, and liquor are here to stay.

But it is interesting to think about this relationship. Society loves it, but warns against loving it too much. Some countries, like the United States, have imposed age limits on consuming alcohol. Here, one must be 21 or over to buy alcohol. In some countries, there is no age limit. How do they survive?

Simple: they have fewer problems than we do. There are those who argue that age limits on alcohol create more problems than it prevents. Some people believe the drinking age should be 18, which is the same for purchasing tobacco, voting, and achieving “adult” status. If you’re old enough to join the military, pick up an M-16, and kill enemy combatants overseas, why can’t you be old enough to enjoy a Guinness with your friends?

Supposedly, counties with either no drinking age or a low drinking age have fewer problems than we do. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. Either way, it is still an issue that politicians and citizens are debating. If the drinking age were lowered to 18, would you see fewer cases of alcohol poisoning on college campuses? Perhaps. Would you see more adults grow up to be more responsible with the drink if they had been able to purchase it at an earlier age? That is a possibility.

In addition to Alcoholics Anonymous, there’s MADD, or Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Their cause should be obvious. Look at television commercials for Captain Morgan or Smirnoff. They advertise their product by showing young sexy good looking people partying it up, and tell you to “drink responsibly.” This is all proof that despite the long and accepted presence of alcohol in our society, there still exists the taboo in our collective consciousness that too much is not a good thing.

It is even misleading to compare alcohol to tobacco. Though tobacco has decreased in popularity over the years due to revelations of lung cancer and other carcinogenic dangers, tobacco serves no other purpose other than the nicotine it provides to its users. There is a sort of “tobacco high” smokers get when they light up, but the addicting power of tobacco is very well known.

Tobacco can be used in moderation, but it usually not. When one gets addicted to it, it can be very difficult to quit. But alcohol is a substance that one can consume in moderation. Alcoholism is a problem that takes a little longer and requires more drinking than becoming hooked on cigarettes. But then again, I’ve never smoked before so I can’t really be certain about that.

But it fair to say that people have more conscious control over their alcohol use than tobacco. But that is neither here nor there.

What is relevant is that the relationship between humanity and alcohol is unprecedented compared to any other food or drink. Carbohydrates may have taken a brutal hit 8 or 10 years ago, but we will always eat our bread, potatoes, rice, and noodles. No where else in our drinking and eating world do we have a substance that is nearly as controversial as alcohol. Alcohol has led to premature deaths. Alcohol consumed by pregnant women can be damaging to their baby. You don’t hear about pregnant women cutting down on carbs, do you?

Alcohol is the one liquid, perhaps second to water and oil, that has made more governments upset and frustrated than anything else. Water and oil are by far the most discussed liquids in global politics. But regardless, who thought food could be such a controversial subject? If there is one subject where politics, religion, and society mix, it would be alcohol.

This is just a taste (no pun intended) of the complexities alcohol presents to our society. Love it, hate it, or die from it, it is here to stay for the long haul. Just thinking about the maddening relationship between society and distilled liquid should make your head spin.

Now there’s something worth talking about at cocktail parties.

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2 Comments on “Of Man and Drink”

  1. Chaz Says:

    Intriguing post.

    I too have pondered our society’s relationship with alcohol. It is woven intricately into our culture and the cultures from which most of us came. Mine being northern European just a generation ago.

    I have heard argument for and against legal drinking ages. My personal jourey is still out.

    Legal drinking ages do not seem to be much of a deterent. They certainly did not deter me from drinking at 16.

    Yet, there is something I like about the message the legal drinking age sends to us. It is a continual suggestion that drinking is a privilege and carries responsibilities. Now certainly, this message does not have enough strength to prevent any of us from overdoing it from time to time or a lot. However, for me, and I would imagine for others, it is a continual cautionary reminder.

    I am convinced that the fundamental form of government is self-government. That is, taking responsibility for ourselves as individuals first. Now we would be wise to call on our natural communities for support in our self governing. Communities such as family, neighbourhood, religious affiliations, friends, and social networks.

    I guess my point is that if there is one thing that history has proven that mankind sucks at is controlling the behaviour of others. Even tyranies like communism failed miserably to control their people.

    I believe the imparting of wisdom through family, education and affiliations that teach a code of morality such as a religious or philosyphical groups have the best chance at having the biggest impact on individuals to create wise, self-govern members of society.

    Yet clearly, these influences have not proven to be 100% effective by any means. I have yet to see the structure or system that produces a flawless population. History has shown that there will always be those that render harm to others. Which is where the second level of government would come in. That being the government of the community that acts on behalf of the community to provide protection, justice, and resolution of inevitable disputes.

    Whats all this got to do with alcohol. Well… I just do not see that any form of legislation or government will ever control how its population uses alcohol.

    Some of us seem to fall into chronic alcoholism even against our moral beliefs and preferences not to.

    The solution is not prohibition or incarceration. While I fully believe that any crime committed while a person volountarily consumed drugs or alcohol is not excusable, and that they should be brought to justice in the exact same way as someone who was not drunk or high, I do not see that incarceration or penalization is the solution to chronic drug or alcohol use. If this were the case, our prisons would not be full of drugs and booze.

    AA has been successful largely because it teaches personal responsibility. Yet ir relies on the community of fellow recoverors. It also encourages the seeking of a power outside of one’s own self. For me, that power is God of the Bible.

    Yet the key to AA effectiveness is the willingness or volition of the individual. There must be some inner individual drive, ambition, curiosity, or attractiveness toward sobriety and recovery for AA to be in any way effective.

    AA cannot be mandated. Well actually, it often is through court order. Yet that is not where we tend to see the results. The results appear amongst those who WANT it and DO it. Fueled by their own willingness and supported by their fellows on the journey and in the rooms.

    AA does not have all the answers and does not to profess to. AA only offers an opportunity for sobriety by making a connection with God to the best of one’s own ability and understanding.

    Yet when we practice AA principles in every area of our lives, those areas can improve dramatically too. So it does have a very universal application.

    The steps are not orders or commandments. They are suggestions. The beauty and power of a suggestion is again the catalyst of willingess. Suggestions in order to be activated need the willingess of the recipient to activate change, growth and recovery.

    Orders seldom get these same results. Which brings us full-circle back to the the principal form of Government…. self-government. Ya gotta wannna! If we are not willing to govern self, no form of external government will be able to control us from harming ourselves and others.

    If we don’t govern our drinking… whether by simply stopping or limiting if we are a normal drinker…. or by establishing a program of sobriety with our community and a power greater than ourselves for us alcoholics, then nobody will do it for us and we will face the consequences of drinking.

    I have gone far more in depth than I intended. This is simply how I have seen and experienced it.



  2. timtakechi Says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful post. It’s good to know that there are people out there reading my blog.

    It is true that the relationship between alcohol and governments is a tricky one that we are still debating today. Who would have thought that a simple beer can cause as much controversy as healthcare reform or global warming? This is something that we should all ponder at least once in our lives.

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