In Defense of Alcohol

July 2, 2008 at 5:21 pm (Travel, What we're drinking) (, )

I debated writing this post, because it is sort of personal. But, ultimately, I think it’s a worthwhile topic to raise for discussion.

I recently had a doctor of mine reprimand me for having an unhealthy lifestyle — because I have a drink or two most nights. Wine with dinner, a couple cocktails with friends, nothing I consider abnormal or excessive. But, according to this doctor, one of two drinks a week would be alright. My habits, he implied, verged on alcoholism.

As I sat in his office, defenses, refutations, and curses filled my head, all the things I wanted to say to him. But instead of saying these things, I just sat there. I sat there as tears filled my eyes, feeling judged and accused in a place that was supposed to be safe and comforting. I wish I could say that I said nothing because it wasn’t worth the fight. But I said nothing because I felt ashamed. This man actually made me question what I do and how I live.

But, like Socrates said (in so many words), there is nothing wrong with a little self examination. And I have emerged on the other side of examining my life, feeling pretty well assured that my relationship with alcohol is entirely healthy. There are so many messages in our society about the dangers of alcohol. And I strongly believe that this attitude towards alcohol is actually what makes it dangerous. In Europe, children grow up having a little bit of wine with dinner. They are taught that wine and spirits are something that can be healthily and happily enjoyed every day. Drinking is part of the culture, part of eating, part of family, and part of socializing — part of life. And because of this, you will hardly ever see any abuse problems in these countries.

In the United States, on the other hand, you find very few households where children grow up being exposed to a healthy consumption of alcohol. Alcohol is treated as illicit and dangerous, something that is strictly prohibited. And, of course, when kids are out on their own, drinking becomes a form of rebellion. Abuse, dependence, and overuse follow — and then alcohol becomes dangerous.

When I first went off to college, this was the kind of drinking I was exposed to. Kids my age drinking cheap alcohol in excess. No one wanted to taste and enjoy what they were drinking; they just wanted to be drunk. I had to watch my classmates stumble home with strangers and throw up all over the sidewalk, and I quickly came to despise the culture of it. This is what drinking was to me, and I wanted nothing to do with it.

And then — Rome. I studied abroad in Rome, and came to love wine, spirits, and the culture of drinking that exists over there. Huge carafes of red and white wine were plopped down on every dinner table; aperitifs of aperol and prosecco were had with friends; limoncello was drank at the end of every meal. I once had the owner of a small restaurant give me and my friends small glasses of grappa because I wasn’t feeling well. I met, mingled, and engaged with people who I couldn’t speak a sentence to, over a bottle of wine. And back home, I have met some of my best friends in this industry. People who can engage in the delight, pleasure, and variety of wine and appreciate the stories and effort that surround its creation.

Here’s what I think: If we all approach alcohol with a stick, warning yourselves that any more than a drink or two a week will cause us harm, then it probably will. But if we approach alcohol as a healthy and fun part of life, then it will be just that.  


Posted by Jane.




  1. Sonja Kassebaum said,

    Couldn’t agree more, thanks for writing the post! Everything in moderation, and for alcohol (at least for me), that means a little every day.

  2. Lance said,

    Evaluating your intake of anything is a good habit to get into, alcohol especially. Those of us in the industry have incredible access to and social support for alcohol consumption, and I think taking a proportionately careful approach to monitoring yourself is important. It’s surprising that your doctor counseled such temperance; a quick search of the Mayo Clinic brought up an article clearly outlining the benefits of regular, moderate alcohol consumption.

  3. el jefe said,

    Jane – very well done! – j

  4. cortesdecima said,

    Great post, and one that makes me think you need to move to Spain. Please read what happened to my wife when she went to her doctor! Doctor’s Prescription in Spain: More Meat, More Wine, More Fat, More Excitement

  5. Rachel Driver said,

    Beautiful, Jane. Well written, poignant, and thoughtful.

    Working in the wine industry, and specifically at LUSH, has considerably altered my drinking habits as well as my perspective upon consumption. We are encouraged, and often required, to dabble in tasting EVERYTHING on the shelves…wine, beer, and odd spirits. Not all at once of course, but in small doses and snippets at a time to further understand the taste of each in context…next to other wines of the same color, varietal and region, next to wines of different varietal, color or region…on different consecutive days to evaulate the effects of time and oxidation on the liquid…with food to experience the magic of wine and food pairing. We are encouraged to play with what we drink. We drink often…generally every day. But, this consumption is measured. This drinking is facilitated at work, for work.

    However, this job all entangled in drinks and drinking also impacts my social consumption. Actually, I often find myself abstaining at home after an intense tasting day at work…or switching mediums to imbibe a cold brew. And true, the Lush staff often extends our wine experience into social gatherings beyond the walls of work, but we are always totally geeking out and finding weird wine or trying unique cocktails and TASTING them. And, while we do indeed DRINK, it is almost always in moderation. Because I am immersed in drinking every day, I rarely drink more than is necessary…and usually very slowly…and sometimes not at all. It is an enjoyable, social experience to be shared with friends and food.

    We certainly do not speak to YOUR drinking style, habits, or preferences. And, this unique position that we find ourselves in may just benefit from a bit of contemplation and self evaluation. But, I take serious issue with a medical professional scolding you. And, BOO for el doctor twisting a safe place with open communication to an uncomfortable, shameful experience. GRR.

    So, I raise my glass to you, Ms. Jane.

    Cin cin,

  6. applebottom said,

    Miss J,

    You know how I feel about this and I am thrilled that you brought the topic into an open forum. You address two important issues: How much is too much? And if you are having too much, how is an accusatory physician (or anyone without a remotely open mind) going to help the situation?

    It is obvious that your physician came from the physician’s version of a puppy mill: pumped out and sold off because they fit the some poorly constructed criteria. I hate puppy mills. I wonder what this doctor would say to the number of his peers who shop at Lush and even sometimes enjoy a drink with the lushes? What pills are by his bedside?

    Rrrrr, I’ll be nice now.

    While the health benefits and risks of alcohol could be argued for the rest of time, it is after all the epicurean way to practice moderation. Your description of your experience in Rome is not only true, it is an ideal reality (woahhh, did I just contradict?! Maybe not). Really, which is more healthy: Having a supportive group of friends with which you share a drink a few times a week, or, restricting yourself to the point of breaking and ending up on a binge that never ends? The latter, while extreme, is all too common. You did well to point this out in your post.

    To me, the mental wellness benefits of friends mixed with food and drink are obvious. Come one, even Jesus did it! Cavemen did it! It is INSTINCT!

    Seriously, know your limits and enjoy yourself. And don’t ever let anyone make you feel bad about it. You only live once—that should scare you but also propel you toward the right balance.

  7. erin said,

    I was first exposed to wine in Spain, and had a similar experience. Not to say that those Europeans don’t occasionally overindulge–after witnessing San Fermin firsthand, I can tell you they certainly do! But, I’d say it’s the anxiety attached to drinking and alcohol that is the real problem, just as you argue here. Personally, I think of the realm of alcohol as one existing within the culinary–and we Americans definitely have a mountain of culinary anxieties, evidenced by the constant stream of new diets, new miracle foods, new rules. We’re all better off with a more holistic [and not in the New Age-y sense!] view of what we put into our bodies. Chew more slowly, sip more slowly, feel a whole lot better about everything.

    I’d rather sit on the sidelines, wine glass in hand, and not really worry so much. Cheers to that, and to you, Jane!

  8. endigar said,

    Hello Jane ~ My name is Rick and I am without a doubt an alcoholic. But I am not a believer in social control or that alcohol is an evil to be squashed. I do believe that I have a specific disease, similar to diabetes or cancer, that requires lifestyle changes to keep it in remission. It is progressive, chronic, and fatal – left untreated.

    Denial is a strong component of the mental obsession. Doctor’s may feel the need to confront in order to overcome the denial. That may not be the case with you. He may be watching too much Dr. House. But it strikes me funny that he would ask about your drinking at all unless you have some other health issues that alerted him to the possibility. Just a thought.

    If I was honestly wanting to evaluate myself to determine if I was an alcoholic, these are some questions I would probably use for the self-evaluation:

    1. When I drink, do I have control over how much I will consume?
    2. When I drink, can I decide when I want to stop drinking?
    3. When I exercise control of my drinking, do I still enjoy it?
    4. When I enjoy my drinking, do I exercise control of the consumption?
    5. Have I had negative consequences associated with my drinking (legal, health, relationships, …)?

    My father used to tell me, “Rick, you just have to learn to sip.” I can remember sipping like a turbo vacuum trying to control my intake. There are normal drinkers. They abuse alcohol by only drinking part of their drink. (Alcoholic joke – sorry).

    I think the European notion sounds like you are romanticizing to me. I know that when I served in the military, we drank together and as a network covered each other. You couldn’t tell the alcoholic from the heavy drinker. And there is a difference.

    The European Union is developing strategies to overcome the problems associated with their drinking issues. [] – [].

    Alcoholics Anonymous is also present in Europe []

    Anyway, each person must decide for themselves. I hope that you are not an alcoholic and that your drinking experience continues to be a pleasurable one.
    Thanks for listening to me ramble. Rick.

  9. Meg said,

    Cheers, Jane.

  10. Jane said,

    I want to thank everyone for your thoughtful responses. Rick, I particularly appreciate you chiming in. It’s important to understand all sides of the issue. Obviously alcoholism is a serious problem, and I have no doubt that this is a disease that many people in Europe suffer from — because it is, as you said, a condition like diabetes or cancer and some people are just more susceptible to it than others. While we at Lush promote responsible enjoyment of alcohol, we expect our customers to be able to evaluate what that means for themselves, and we hold ourselves to the same standards.

    Thanks again, everyone. It means a lot to me that you all took the time to read this post and respond.

  11. Arthur, said,


    Your post is well written.

    However, many countries in Europe do have serious alcohol abuse problems. I do not think it’s accurate to diminish that and I get the impression here that you are making it sound as though all of Europe that this Disney-perfect healthy relationship with alcohol.

  12. Sarah said,

    Wow – today was my first visit to this blog, and I’m thoroughly impressed by the thoughtful, respectful dialogue!

    And hopefully in keeping, I’ll offer one more aspect to the mix: often, doctors are taught to take whatever a patient says about alcohol/tobacco/drug intake and at least double it, since many people are loath to admit their “bad habits.” I have more than once seen a doc’s eyes widen when they get to the alcohol part of my form, and I have to tell them that I’m really telling the truth…

  13. wine sooth » Blog Archive » Balance said,

    […] Balance seems to be at an even greater premium when talking about wine-related research and the health benefits of wine. It seems that any sort of cautionary commentary about the benefits of resveratrol or about moderation and responsibility in alcohol consumption is invariably perceived as “preachy” or judgmental. […]

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