THE COMPLICIT CONSPIRACY OF ALCOHOL

What do these cartoons have in common?

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They all send a message that drinking is fun, actually not just fun, needed to cope with today’s world. The message is so prevalent, so strongly shared in social media, on TV, in movies and in our social lives that we barely take notice.  We barely stop to think that something might be wrong with it.

This is not an easy post to write, as it feels like swimming against a strong current. Let me start with my own experience on the subject. My college years were all alcohol-free and the friends I hung out at the time with were not interested in drinking. Then I started dating the man who became my first husband. He absolutely loved wine and other libations. I tried my first glass of wine around age 24; I could take it or leave it as far as taste was concerned, but I embraced the practice for the fun aspects that came with it. Drinking became a part of my social life and I never worried about it.  Except for having to deal with the eventual drunk friend or relative, but they ended up more as harmless annoyances, nothing I was overly concerned with.  Plus, “they” were not “me”, so all was fine in my own Private Idaho.

In the past few years, I noticed that my tolerance for alcohol started to sharply decrease. Whereas in the past I could indulge in a mixed drink before dinner, then a glass or two of wine with my meal, and still have a normal morning next day, as I got older doing the same caused a hangover that pretty much ruined my next day.  Two glasses of wine with dinner became the maximum I can drink, but sometimes even that makes me a bit unwell. You might say “… so what? Stick with one glass and don’t worry about it.”  But, the realization of how harmful just a little more might be for my body got me thinking. Could drinking – even at a moderate level – be doing me more harm than good?  How could I be sure? Shouldn’t I listen to the signs my body kept sending me?  I also started to question my reasons for drinking. I decided to go on a personal experiment and quit drinking for a couple of months. While doing so it became evident the power of the alcohol industry. I read a lot on the subject, from the benefits of drinking (heavily shared around in social media) to its negative side-effects (barely mentioned in those venues), and about the advertising strategies and profits of the alcohol industry.  And now here I am to share my thoughts.

I don’t intend to turn myself or anyone else into a teetotaler. Or to be judgmental about those who drink a little or a lot. I simply hope that we can all be more attentive to – and perhaps take a stance against –  the constant bombardment of alcohol advertising, which, by the way, now heavily targets women.  It portrays alcohol as a harmless substance, supposed to make your life fun and sophisticated. It is supposed to make you tolerate the stresses of your day, and  surf more smoothly through social interactions, especially if they feel awkward to start with.  The alcohol industry clearly prefers to place the burden of any negative effect of drinking on the shoulders of the “bad drinkers.” They, the pitiful alcoholics. We all subscribe to this view, by the way. That is neither fair nor accurate. In reality, the problems reside on the substance itself.  Alcohol is a toxin that your body immediately needs to  degrade once you ingest it. No matter how little you drink, your liver works extra to deal with it. Alcohol is addictive (not just for alcoholics), and as far as its danger ranking for society, it is worse than heroine and other illicit drugs (on a scale of 100, alcohol ranks 72, whereas heroine ranks  55 and crack 54, see this article).  In reality, moderate drinking, the kind that advocates portray as having positive effects on the cardiovascular system, is not what many drinkers are doing, particularly us women. Keep in mind that for women, moderate drinking is considered a maximum of 5 ounces of wine per day and even such low-level is a matter of debate. Anything more and the risks outweigh the benefits. Women metabolize alcohol less efficiently than men, and that is not simply an effect of body mass.  Often couples (yours truly included) will happily share  a bottle of wine with their dinner in the name of pleasure and supposed health benefits. We keep doing it, while  mentally assembling all the arguments that make it sound like a risk-free thing.  And the arguments seem to make sense. Come to think of it, the cartoons and funny jokes finally place women as equals with men on the drinking stage. Wow, that is some sociological victory! 😉

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I know that many people will read my post and react against it, claiming “I don’t have/see a problem.” True, probably you don’t.  But, our society does. Under age drinking is another serious problem made harder to deal with due to the influence of social media that enables advertisement by peers without any regulation (reviewed here). So, yes, maybe you are not affected directly by it. But someone you love might be. Maybe a son or a daughter, who at some point will be exposed to the Siren’s Song of the alcohol industry, that actually relies on the very existence of alcoholics for most of their profit.  Kids will go to college, turn 21, and in the US they will encounter the tradition of binge drinking. Maybe your own kids won’t partake, but they may suffer the consequences of being around those who do. No matter our own personal experience, our control and confidence in our own judgement, we should not close our eyes to the careless and irresponsible advertisement of drinking that happens today.  Not only direct, but also indirect advertisements.  I suggest you pay close attention to sitcoms, TV shows in general, and once you do, you will be shocked by the widespread underlying message of drinking as equal to living the good life. Today’s alcohol industry is exactly like the cigarette industry decades ago. We fought against them to stop false advertising, to stop selling the association of smoking with a great time. Why do we grant the alcohol industry a free pass to lie to us? Why do we help their cause by sharing cute jokes and spreading articles that reinforce the fun but look away when scientific data offer a different perspective?

The “responsible drinking” lie. Did you know that alcoholics account for 47% of the profits of alcohol sales? Just think about that for a second. The consequence of this fact is that the industry has no interest in moderate drinking, or in articles that warn about the dangers of drinking. Instead, their goal is to make sure that the proportion of heavy drinkers stays at the current level or even grows to protect their profits.  Like everything else, it’s all about the money.  They completely disregard a few annoying facts like: alcohol has been linked to about 200 illnesses  (World Health Organization, 2014); alcohol is associated with increased risk for cancers of the mouth, esophagus, pharynx, larynx (organs that alcohol directly contacts), liver, and breast  (National Cancer Institute). Some individuals become addicted to alcohol from the first taste, for reasons not well understood, probably genetics is involved (I could not find precise statistics about it). That’ should be enough to give us all a pause. What if that person is someone you deeply care about? A nephew, a niece, a sibling. Drinking does not make problems go away or life easier. It does not make us happier or more fun and interesting in conversations.  However, most people believe that it does (I am not excluding myself, it is a very ingrained belief), and the alcohol industry is more than willing to feed those beliefs. Why wouldn’t they? It keeps their sales up.

quoteSo, what’s my point? My main message is that alcohol demands more attention and respect for what it really is:  a toxin with addictive properties.  Approach it with the caution it deserves. Consider real instead of pseudo-moderation. Talk to your kids about it in those terms. Be aware of the false aura behind it,  even if you think you are totally immune to it.  You may want to look into the role that drinking has in your own life.  Does it help you deal with stress …  is that the way you’d like your kids to face stress too?  Do you need it to have fun socially … is that the way you’d like your kids to approach it too?  We must acknowledge and deal with the darker side of drinking in honest terms.  I’ve had my share of encounters with people I admire, respect and love, but noticed with some sadness that they turn into different versions of themselves when drinking.  Sometimes they become overly argumentative, aggressive or depressed, only because they drank over a certain threshold.  Alcohol-induced happiness can be fleeting. And what comes after ranges from mildly annoying to sad, to ugly, all the way up to dangerous. Drinking and driving is one example, as are arguments, fights, black outs, the list is long, you get the picture. I once said things I regretted, because wine made me lose some self-control. It involved politics and interactions with a conservative couple. Even today, 15 years later, I don’t like to remember that evening. But still, that episode made me feel the dark side beneath my own skin.

Now back to my personal experiment. For starters, t shocked me how much better I felt once I stopped having alcohol with dinner, particularly considering that I didn’t drink that much and not even every evening.  Gone was a persistent, low-level headache that forced me to take a couple of aspirins a few times a week.  Gone was waking up in the morning with bags and puffiness under my eyes, and a sort of pale complexion. Lastly, I have renewed energy late at night, and sleep better too. Those are nice, unexpected bonuses.  Because I get  up early, I thought that being exhausted by 10 pm was normal.  Feeling overall quite a bit better makes it trickier to justify going back to drinking. For the time being I am surfing through these new waters, with a “naked” mind.  Honestly, I don’t know what I will do in the long run. I believe in moderation for everything, so quitting alcohol forever seems too drastic and not at all what I had in mind when I started my “experiment.”  The bottom line is, I am conflicted and struggling to find my own balance. That’s all I can say for now. So, if you wanted all the answers, I am sorry to disappoint you, I don’t have them. Not yet, that is…

But I am not at all conflicted about my views on the alcohol industry and the need to fight against it. All alcohol bottles should come with better warning labels, just as cigarettes now do, more than “Alcohol…may cause health problems.”  The health warnings should be as bold and restrictive as they are for cigarettes. The more aware we become, the less alcohol will harm us as a society.

To close this post, I will share two links. One takes you to a book that is sure to help people struggling with alcoholism or who have a hard time moderating their consumption.  It is called, This Naked Mind, by Annie Grace.  Even if you drink in moderation, the book is worth reading. The second link takes you to an article in The Washington Post, that I read when I was about 75% done writing this post. I was pleasantly surprised to see my views confirmed by others much more qualified than me to talk about the subject. I suggest you at least watch the short video included in the article, pretty interesting, she is quite articulate.

And just to end on a happier note, here is a pretty festive drink. It has a negligible amount of alcohol with the drops of bitters, but they add a nice kick to the taste. Do not omit them.

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CRANBERRY BLISS: Place a few glass cubes inside a tall glass. Add 1/4 of pure cranberry juice, 5 drops of bitters (any kind you like, Angostura for instance), fill the glass with 3/4 sparkling water. Drink and enjoy!

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ONE YEAR AGO: Candy Cane Cookies

TWO YEARS AGO: Macarons: Much better with a friend

THREE YEARS AGO: Our Mexican Holiday Dinner 

FOUR YEARS AGO: The Ultimate Cranberry Sauce

FIVE YEARS AGO: Edamame Dip

SIX YEARS AGO: Gougeres

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Beef Wellington on a Special Night

 

 

27 thoughts on “THE COMPLICIT CONSPIRACY OF ALCOHOL

  1. I might have 5 drinks a year. Not because of health reasons or anything else. I just don’t like the lack of self control I feel when I drink. I’ve been like this all my life but I did party while in college. Every man in my father’s family, with the lone exception of my son, are alcoholics. When my son was young, I explained the situation and told him it was up to him but he was at extreme risk. He now drinks about the same amount I do. He does it to be careful. My daughter doesn’t drink at all. She doesn’t like how it makes her feel.

    All three of us would like the cranberry bliss. Happy New Year.

    great post!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think everyone knows some sad stories affecting loved ones. I doubt the problem will go away anytime soon, but I do think it’s important to keep in mind the extent of pushing it to young people and women these days. It amazes me that most women will go out of their way to procure organic product in the name of being healthy, when there is no scientific evidence that organic is better. But then they share a bottle of wine at dinner when the evidence is that it can do you harm. How crazy is that? 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post. Very thoughtful and timely. I have been guilty of promoting the message on social media that life is more fun with alcohol. I’m going to be more mindful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So glad you liked it. I think being mindful of it is all that matters. I don’t mean to be a stick in the mud, and jokes are funny. But it is important to keep the bigger picture in focus.

      Like

  3. I could have written this post, Sally. As peri menopause set in, my alcohol tolerance went way down. I feel fab when I don’t touch alcohol and when I drink wine regularly, I sleep poorly, get headaches and feel sluggish. I totally agree that social media has been making it seem ok and normal for women to drink every day and it is a bit terrifying!! I have found the same thing with sugar. When I avoid sugar, I feel much better! I haven’t found my perfect balance, either. I still love some wine sometimes. Anyway, good for you for writing a whole post about it. Really interesting to read about your experience. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • OH, so wonderful to “see” you here! I often think about you, did you know that? Anyway, thank you for leaving this comment, which I truly appreciate it… come to think of it, we live in times in which excesses of all kinds are being associated as living well. When it doesn’t have to be this way, quite the contrary. It is hard to find balance. It is a constant struggle, but one that is worth dealing with, in my opinion

      hope all is going wonderfully well for you!

      Like

      • I spend very little (no) time reading blogs anymore and I don’t know why! I think I’m stuck on FB where I have linked to blogs and sites that I like and sometimes I click on the link and sometimes I just read what’s shown on FB and respond there. And rarely do I comment on anything because, well, I guess I don’t think it matters, unless I feel strongly about something, like your post… or the cakes you make, ha ha ha ha!!!! It’s frustrating because I KNOW you can become a fantastic cake baker since you can do everything else so well. I wish I could pop over to your place and give you a master class.
        I love this time of year because I love New Year’s resolutions. I’m thinking about mine for this year especially since moving to such a strange place and having hardly any of our belongings makes me think about what is necessary in life to be happy. Health is one of those things. So this year it’s definitely less alcohol, less sugar and loving to live with fewer belongings. Happy New Year to you and your loved ones. (My naughty doggy was just found on the couch I fully cleaned before our friends arrive!)

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  4. Interesting and thoughtful perspective, Sally.

    I’m not sure about the complete analogy between tobacco and alcohol. When used as directed and intended, tobacco *will* kill you. I don’t think that this is equally true of alcohol. Still, like others, we know many who’ve struggled with their relationships with alcohol – and one who died almost certainly as a result.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There is no doubt that the link between nicotine and lung cancer is much stronger. But the harmful effects of alcohol are much more devastating from a sociological standpoint. By far. The smoker affects his own health – second hand smoke has been a bit dicey to prove as harmful, unless for workers in environments that are (or were before regulations) extremely contaminated by smoke (French cafes of 10 years ago come to mind). The parallels between both industries are the same – they put their profits above all else, and tell lies to turn their product into something that is so cool as to be (in the case of drinking) almost mandatory to have fun in social situations.

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  5. Great post! So many very valid, true points.
    As you know, I am teetotal, for my own and many reasons, not least due to my parents both being alcoholics. I don’t expect my husband not to drink, it’s his choice, and we will aim to guide our son very carefully around all substances, and just hope that he takes some heed!
    Personally, I don’t understand why anyone would want to abuse their bodies, or give over control to a chemical substance…but that’s just me..

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t expect any of my friends or Phil not to drink – not at all – I think it’s all a matter of personal choice, and answering to the messages our body sends us 🙂

      I really don’t know exactly how to approach it long term – actually you were the first person I talked about this issue, remember? Back when I was having second thoughts and all. Now I am still trying to see where I am and where to go – but it was good for me to write this post and get my thoughts a bit more “organized”

      Liked by 1 person

    • hello there, Pielove! 😉 Nice to “see” you – I guess it’s really a matter of personal choices, and if drinking doesn’t cause any problems or issues, no big deal, right? 😉

      Like

  6. Sally: a wonderful post, especially at this time of the year’ with many points on which to ponder. As you would realize I am a fair few years older than you – I have had wine with the main meal of the day since our very able paediatrician back in Europe told Mom to give me a port-glass-full of red because a I had a bad appetite and was ‘scrawny’ at about age 4. [In those days we all called it a ‘tonic’ 🙂 🙂 🙂 !!!]

    Love of wine [and the occasional glass of a good malt or my Dad’s favourite cognac] has always been part of my life: do not think I would have become a ‘foodie’ unless the wine-pairing was there!. Visits to vineyards, lessons on wine-tasting, the excitement of special purchases from around the world etc have added considerably to the substance of my life on this planet. As a medico I well know the supposed ‘limits’ – methinks they depend on why and how much one imbibes. {And my liver and kidney figures have never ever been anywhere near unsatisfactory!] I remember having been somewhat tipsy about twice in my life, I have never had a hangover or a headache and my tolerance has hugely increased during the past few decades of my life! I drink because of love of food and because a meal would not be such unless a glass or three of matching were there to accompany it and because understanding wine is such a huge art taking up all one’s life I guess ! It is a joy to sit down a few times a week with a crowd of friends to debate about what is in the bottle! How does one take all the evening semi-professional conversations without a glass in the hand . . . ?

    Yes, Australia on the whole drinks too much and oft for the wrong reasons – sadly I watch the young who get into trouble on our city streets late at night, often on the strength of idiotic cheap spirit/soft drink mixes because of the frustrations of a life to which they are ill equipped.. At the same time, as a result of my ongoing medical studies I know I may have been deceased for a variety of inherited health problems a long time ago if my food + wine consumption was not as healthily steady. To each their own, Sally – I respect your view and find it difficult to understand that you would even mildly feel the effects of a few glasses of wine . . . . . *huge smile* . . . . . with Christmas just past, are you aware the foremost promulgator for ‘wine with every meal’ was his Lord Jesus Christ . . .. . . OK: the dear boy had no choice with ‘dirty water’ as an alternative . . . all my love . . . .

    Liked by 1 person

    • Funny that you mentioned scientific meetings – I had the opportunity of attending two cocktail-dinners in a meeting last month, and was the only person who did not drink any alcohol. In that particular situation I felt how drinking “facllitates” interactions that are not optimal. Pretty much no one knew anyone personally, we were more or less placed in that room exclusively by our science, but even that was not a very common denominator – researchers from widely different areas were interacting, many with those huge egos that come with the territory 😉 I must confess it was “interesting” to observe my own reactions while alcohol-free and that of those around me, how a first sip of wine, actually just the ordering of the first bottle of wine makes people more relaxed. It is a passport to easier social interactions, no doubt about it.

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      • Sally, with due respect – methinks it IS wee bit more than that! I honestly do not think that ‘huge egos’ need necessarily may have played a part, sheer everyday ‘habit’ may! This is ‘how we do’, this is ‘how we are’ 🙂 ! Oh yes, I have sometimes been ‘on antibiotics’ and unable to drink: and, yes, I have heard my friends and colleagues ‘changing’ in humour and honesty during the everyday and unavoidable gatherings 🙂 !! With me, honestly, it is a matter of ‘food and wine’ – You may know of a prime example of blending the two in ‘Stefan’s Gourmet’ – a hugely talented and highly regarded professional’ like you . . . . . the prime reason for following him is one of ‘food/wine’ marrying! As I said: our choices and our needs . . . . *laughter’ Hmmm: I would not even think about pouring 3 or 4: there is no reason but sheer fun: I would not even notice and I manage rather well . . . *giggle’ for all those years and going more than so . . . .

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I had no idea 47% of the profits come from alcoholics. I do hate the use of the language of addiction jokingly, like calling food “crack,” or even saying “addicted to…” something innocuous when one is really not. I’ve known too many people whose lives have been affected, and it’s just not the same. Now please don’t visit my site tomorrow. I found some lovely etched glasses and am posting a cocktail… sheepish grin.

    Liked by 1 person

    • but OF COURSE I’ll stop by! I am not turning into a fun-killer, my dear! No way! I am quite conflicted to be honest. Trying to find my answers and get at some point in which I feel at peace with my choices. IN the meantime, I will save your cocktail recipe – which I am sure it will be awesome! I can make it for Phil, or for good friends, or who knows, I might decide to indulge myself! 😉

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  8. Bravo, Sally, for speaking honestly about a subject (and substance) that affects many people. Thank you for sharing your current experiment with your readers. I am almost a non-drinker and conflicted at times about that. Alcohol does not really agree with me, but I enjoy the taste of some drinks and sometimes want to drink one. Many family members and friends of mine are alcoholics, many but not all in recovery.

    Like

    • I think it is a very controversial topic. Most people who drink like to think they are in full control and moderate, when in reality that is not quite the case. But then again, so many people enjoy drinking without any problems, so it is really a matter of observing our own body and reactions and dancing to our own music

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  9. Resolução de ano novo: como é bastante extenso, ler o artigo sobre o álcool no primeiro dia do ano e, após, comentá-lo. Me aguarde!.

    Like

    • you said it – not an easy topic. It took me a long time not so much to write it, but to decide to go ahead and post it, because it is much easier to write on popular points of view, and stick with sharing recipes, right? But I felt the need to get these ideas out there, maybe it will help some people, it actually helped me get a better understanding of my own issues with it.

      I think that you should really follow your heart and what makes you happy – a little self awareness doesn’t hurt, and I think we can all profit from it on many aspects of life.

      Like

  10. Thanks for this post. I have been struggling with my relationship to alcohol and our society’s relationship with alcohol for a while now. It is so interwoven with everything social it is crazy. I now work in the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder world and this is one of the places where our societal “addiction” with alcohol is really a problem. As you said, women are drinking more, marketing is targeting them directly because they were seen as “underachievers” by the alcohol industry for so long, well they/we are catching up now, sadly.

    Women aren’t drinking to hurt their babies but there are a lot of unintended consequences happening due to the changes in our drinking habits. 50% of pregnancies are unplanned in North America, so, many pregnancies are exposed to significant quantities of alcohol, unbeknownst to soon to be mothers. Also, as many of us become accustomed to that glass of wine with dinner, it is part of our daily routine and when we get pregnant it is harder to change a habit that we like and that we feel is beneficial to us. So, as a consequence, more babies are exposed to regular quantities of alcohol if not high quantities of alcohol. We know that alcohol is a toxin and causes birth defects, yet as a society we are trying to justify continuing to drink during pregnancy despite the evidence that it is bad for fetuses.

    I like the pictures/jokes in your blog, we have all seen them, many of us have shared them. They touch a chord with us, we get the humour, we like to drink with our friends, we like to share something that makes us laugh, whether it is a glass of wine or a funny post. It has become so ingrained that we don’t even notice the comments, the jokes, and maybe the inappropriateness of when and where we share these things. Now that I’m aware of the marketing, the addiction, the situation, I notice the comments and jokes everywhere, in newspaper articles, in comments around the office, etc. I do see some great parallels with the tobacco industry and hope that as a society we can start to see the harms instead of just sharing the benefits and seeing alcohol for what it is as a drug and a toxin and start to change the way we look at it.

    Like

    • Thank you so much for such a thoughtful comment, I really REALLY appreciate it. I hear you! Had not considered the effects on fetuses, it’s true that for sure many women drink more than advisable when they do not know they are pregnant. So REAL moderation has one more reason to become REALLY moderation 😉

      Like

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