One of the down sides of Alcoholics Anonymous and similar programs is that they have brainwashed most of us into believing that alcoholism is a disease. There’s no proof of this, i.e., no empirical evidence of disease verifiable by MRI, blood test or other methods by which we normally prove such things. Because of this brainwashing, people who used to drink too much are often afraid to try moderation years later. After all, if alcohol abuse is a disease, then you must avoid alcohol forever – or so the flawed reasoning goes. Despite all the feel-good fawning and enabling, in the absence of any empirical evidence, alcohol abuse simply cannot be called a disease.
Now before you fire-up your email, this certainly does not mean that I’d encourage someone with a known alcohol problem to return to drinking just for the heck of it. As with any dangerous behavior – and alcoholism falls into that category – potential risks and benefits must be weighed. Alcohol reduces inhibitions and impairs judgment. And the more you drink, the truer that is. Some are impaired more quickly, while others can have one or two drinks and responsibly enjoy the benefits from doing so. Moderate intake of wine with dinner or a happy hour cocktail adds spice to life, kind of like pepper or salt to a dish. But, as with spice, moderation is key.
Alcoholism, while not a disease, is not a choice in the normal sense of the term. Choice is a concept that requires a rational state of mind. Most people’s minds are altered, at least somewhat, after a drink or two. Because of increased sensitivity to alcohol, an alcoholic’s judgment can be suspended after just one or two drinks. In the absence of that judgment, he or she can feel compelled to drink more and more.
When a former alcoholic asks my opinion about their having an occasional drink, I suggest they first weigh the benefits and risks. In other words, what do they stand to gain, and what do they potentially risk? If they are pressuring themselves to drink because they perceive others want them to, I tell them to stop right there. There’s no need to take a risk to please others. If their friends don’t enjoy their company unless they drink, then they should forget about the alcohol and reevaluate their friendships. Conversely, if they have objectively defensible reasons to suggest that life might be more enjoyable with a drink every so often, then I won’t argue with those motives. But it’s important to be totally honest about those motives and make sure they’re not some sort of rationalization that can lead to excessive behaviors.
Sometimes it makes sense to do what scientific researchers do: Conduct a series of experiments. Plan times to drink when you know it will be safe. Make sure you don’t have to drive, and establish a limit – set in stone – on the amount you will drink in a given span of time. If you stick to that limit without difficulty, not just once but a number of times, then you probably don’t have a problem, and you’re probably safe if your judgment doesn’t lapse after just one or two drinks.
The outcome of that experiment will give you or a loved one the best answer to the question of how much is too much. It’s also important to remember that drinking is never a necessity. In fact, you’ll never develop problems if you stay away from alcohol entirely. But if it’s only a minimal amount you’d like to sip, then put it to the test and decide for yourself what benefit it does or does not bring. And then allow moderation to become a habit.
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