Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 02/17/08 6:25 AM

Feature: Can That One Drink Hurt You?

 Can that one drink hurt you?

Drinking, even light, social drinking, carries its own baggage. Just as long as you know.

 The thing is, we have evolved enough not to mistake light drinking for alcoholism.

So. What is light drinking? To be exact, it’s having 1.5 ounces of hard alcohol each day, or 5 ounces of wine, or 12 ounces of beer. It’s meeting friends at a pub for a mug or two of lager before going on for dinner. It’s opening a bottle of rose with a pasta dinner. It’s just relaxing with your partner and sipping from fluted or cut glass.

All activities that do not entail passing out on the roadside, crashing your car, visits to a doctor, checking into rehabilitation centres or severe tests on your will power. Activities which can and do destroy the fabric of your family life.

You would think we as a society can now make the distinction, distil the grain from the chaff. We attend wine and cheese, fashion and art evenings. We read and cheer efforts to grow grapes and create wines on home-grown soil.

However, for all that, liquor advertising still hides behind ridiculously fake fig leaves. People…men, all of them, but naturally… walk into wine shops in decent neighbourhoods in neighbouring states but do not catch each other’s eye while buying liquor.

Liquor still rates as a top destroyer in India, not without some truth. All bottles containing spirits carry the warning that drinking is injurious to one’s health, as indeed it can be. Drinking is still placed at par with taking drugs, which the West quaintly terms ‘abusing substances.’

Moderate drinking

India has a growing amount of moderate drinkers but their at best tentative voice is often drowned in the clamour for prohibition. The moderate drinkers are by no means addicts; they just relax with a drink or two, then wind up. Studies have proved that moderate drinking can benefit people, reducing rates of stroke, heart disease, kidney cancer and diabetes.

However, all we read and absorb are the very real dangers of heavy drinking: a ruined liver, cancer of the stomach and the oesophagus, depression and other related mental illness, to name just a few.

Another study has revealed that moderate drinkers tend to be well-educated, hold good jobs, are more likely to be health conscious, exercise regularly, be more aware of all that is going on around them. Increasingly, many people clinch deals over a drink or two in the wood-panelled confines of their clubs or at star hotels. Elsewhere, colleagues get together to discuss business over a drink. Nothing can be further related to alcoholism.

Out in Europe, people drink with their meals, rather than before eating, a commonplace and beneficial habit. When we drink with food, we absorb the alcohol more slowly, become less intoxicated and the alcohol moderates the way the body processes the fat in food and further, aids the body’s insulin sensitivity.

Unfortunately, we tend to down our drinks rapidly, aided by some unhealthy fried snack foods, then move to the dinner table. Which is why alcohol in moderation every day is still far too controversial a concept for us.

Destructive crutch

Prohibition of alcohol has not really helped control the clandestine, immoderate and destructive drinking many people indulge in, amongst all strata in our society. Moderate drinkers, on the other hand, realise just what they are doing, do not use their drink as a crutch or escape mechanism, and are in no way dependent on a daily drink, psychologically, emotionally or physically.

Dr. Vijay Nagaswami, psychotherapist and relationships consultant, puts the matter into perspective. “I suppose everything in moderation is fine and research evidence does seem to support moderate consumption of alcohol as having a beneficial effect on health.

In fact, the combination of moderate consumption of alcohol (a drink a day) and moderate exercise is considered extremely beneficial to longevity in adults over 65 years old.

This, of course, does not mean that non-drinkers should start drinking. The major difficulty with moderate drinking is that, given the addictive nature of alcohol, it is very easy to slip into a progressively heavier drinking pattern.

And therefore, I would consider it more prudent to look for other ways to enhance one’s health than depending on a chemical that can do as much harm as good.”

Basically, as Dr. Nagaswami says, moderate drinking boils down to one drink a day. Of course, non-drinkers would do well to stay non-drinkers. And people on medication that would be rendered inefficient by drink, or people who cannot hold their drink, ought not to drink at all.

As for the rest, well, they can safely hold up their fluted glasses for a toast … cheers!

This ran in THE HINDU of 17 Feb 2008.

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Sheila Kumar • February 17, 2008

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