Category Archives: Drink

The Problems with Problem Drinking

alcohol drinksWhenever the topic of drinking laws or, more recently, marijuana laws comes up in my writing classes, I will hear a simple pronouncement against prohibition based on the historic Prohibition effected by the 18th Amendment. These students will say something like this: “More people drank during Prohibition than before or after.”

Of course, my highly knowledgeable freshmen have no evidence to back up this supposed fact. Perhaps since everyone in the movies based in those times (but not so much in movies made in those times) seems to be spending all their free time in a crowded speakeasy, they assume that everybody was slamming back the booze between the 18th and 21st Amendments. I typically point out that if the Sinclair Lewis novel Babbitt is any real indication, procuring alcohol was possible but far from easy in those days. They’re not impressed.

All of this is a long journey to introduce a new study on the significance of problem drinking in the United States.

Researchers from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism asked 36,000 adults during 2012 or 2013 about lifetime drinking habits, including current or within the past year. About 14 percent of adults were current or recent problem drinkers, or nearly 33 million nationally, and 30 percent — almost 69 million — had been at some point in their lives.

I’m neither a smoker nor a drinker, but I am continuously mystified at how our culture absolutely vilifies smoking, placing smokers perhaps one step up from those who waterboard nuns, while drinkers pretty much receive a pass on any blame.

The last time I checked, smoking did not have a connection with domestic violence, did not cause fatal automobile accidents, or otherwise immediately and significantly harm people other than the person lighting the cigarette. (Yes, I know about the second hand smoke research, but since the worst of that happens within families to children, none of the recent smoking restrictions have made much progress on that front.) Why then do we take smoking so seriously and make only passing criticism of all the bad stuff that alcohol does to our society?



Moderate Drinking is Good, No, It’s Bad

alcohol drinksDon’t you love it when the experts can’t seem to determine whether something will save our lives or kill us? Cholesterol has been one of these topics. Twenty years ago, it was just bad. Then it was good and bad cholesterol. And now researchers are leaning toward not particularly worrying about the LDL.

In recent years, a series of studies have suggested that moderate drinking might have some heart-friendly effects. Now a new study pushes back the other way, pointing out a correlation between moderate drinking in older people and damage to the heart.

“Moderate” drinking might harm your heart if you’re a senior citizen, a new study suggests.

And women appear to be at greater risk for alcohol-related heart damage than men, the researchers found.

“In an elderly population, increasing alcohol intake is associated with subtle alterations in heart structure and function, with women appearing more susceptible than men to the toxic effects of alcohol,” said lead researcher Dr. Alexandra Goncalves. She is a postdoctoral research fellow at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston.

So if this study has it right, then alcohol might prevent a heart attack until it causes one. I’m frankly not sure how to feel about that.

A couple of months back, I shared Steve Gaines’ six reasons why he doesn’t drink. Granted, this seventh reason not to drink might be overturned by some study showing that alcohol actually multiplies brain synapses, but I’m not going to bet on it.

Reconsidering My Reconsideration

Diet SodaA while back, I shared with you my determination to ween myself off of my beverage of choice: Diet Dr. Pepper. Since I spent a couple of summers working on the grounds crew at Mt. Washington Cemetery, I’ve been a determined drinker of diet soda. At first it was Tab. Then came Diet Coke. For the last several years it has been Diet Dr. Pepper, sometimes splashed with a bit of vanilla when I get it at QuikTrip.

I’m pretty sure that drinking this stuff is better for me than swilling a bunch of high-fructose corn syrup, but I, as I shared earlier, know that I could do better drinking something exotic–like water. That’s why I set my eye on cutting back and then eliminating this drink from my life.

So how am I doing? I’m glad you asked. My progress has been–well, it’s complicated. Right after I wrote that original post, I cut myself back to my first-thing-in-the-morning super tanker from QuikTrip. Then, instead of refilling it on the way home, I’d opt for tea. This process worked for me for a few days. Then I planned to downsize the early-morning cup and eventually cut it out.

But this was when I was building up to run my half marathon. I didn’t want to mess my body up, did I? Surely that wasn’t the right time. And then we were moving toward the end of the spring semester. Why put extra stress on myself then? I could always cut back during the summer, right? Right?

You hear it, don’t you? I’m a veritable fount of excuses. I know what I need to do, but my mind comes up with a succession of rationalizations to keep me from having to do it. Deep down, I know that I’m just avoiding a change to a habit that I find comforting, but if I don’t look deep down, I can convince myself that this is really a good choice.

Excuses are a human specialty. Since Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent for their sin, we’ve been artists working in the medium of excuse. In Proverbs 22:13 we read, “The slacker says, ‘There’s a lion outside! I’ll be killed in the streets!'” Today, I suppose the slacker thinks it will rain or that there’s something good on TV.

I’d love to say that my excuse making with regards to diet soda is at an end, but it isn’t. Perhaps I’ll revisit that reconsideration eventually, but not today.

The Earliest American Temperance Advocate?

Dr. Benjamin Rush was not only the most esteemed medical man in the earliest days of the United States, but he signed the Declaration of Independence. In 1790, Rush sounded one of the first calls against excessive alcohol consumption. Can you believe that in those days a non-drinking person couldn’t buy life insurance?

Check out Rush’s attempt to demonstrate the relative risks and rewards of various beverages. Will you opt for the “serenity of mind” offered by milk or “small beer,” or will you instead risk “melancholy, madness, despair” with a constant dosing of “Gin, Brandy, and Rum”? Dr. Rush would have you choose wisely.

Reconsidering My Beverage Choices

Since my college years, I’ve been blessed not to struggle with substance addictions. I’ve tried smoking and never understood how someone could go to the trouble. Alcohol and drugs have not held any sway over my life. I can’t even stand the taste of coffee, so the caffeine-delivery system of choice isn’t on my radar. But then there’s diet soda.

Diet Soda

My liquid of choice is Diet Dr. Pepper. Every morning, on the way to school, I’ll fill up a huge QuikTrip cup. (And don’t judge me for my 54-ounce cup. They cost the same to refill as the 44-ounce version.) I’ll drink an inch or two off the top and then stash it in my office fridge for later. That refill lasts me until lunch. Usually I’ll get another giant refill on the way home. On some especially demanding days–defined as days when I pass by a lot of QuikTrips–I’ll add a third. That’s 162 ounces. Even allowing for ice, that’s somewhere around a gallon of Diet Dr. Pepper.

For years I’ve heard all sorts of scary things about these drinks. They have formaldehyde in them. (So I won’t need to be embalmed when I die!) They weaken your teeth. They actually make you fat. Yeah, the zero calorie drink makes you add weight compared to the sugar-filled version.

As it turns out, recent research from the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society suggests that those who drink diet soda regularly tend to put on more belly fat as they age.

They determined that daily and occasional diet soda drinkers gained nearly three times as much belly fat as nondrinkers, after they ruled out other factors such as age, exercise and smoking. The diet soda drinkers added an average of .83 inch to their waist circumferences, while the nondrinkers added .3 inch. Daily consumers like me gained a striking 1.19 inches.

At present, I’m not struggling with too much belly fat, but I do know that age will tend to make it harder to maintain my six-pack abs. (Okay–I’m 52 and have never had, nor do I expect to ever have, six-pack abs.)

A story on NPR brought this information to me today in the course of describing the recent slide in diet soda sales. Apparently others have gotten the memo that I’ve missed.

Is there a proper Christian position on aspartame? Honestly, I think there might be. Might. If I have something in my life that is adding nothing particularly positive (aside from saving the funeral home some time) and that might be causing me problems down the road, shouldn’t I give it a hard look? How can I justify spending my money on something with only negative paybacks? In short, I really can’t. But common decency to those around me will prevent me from going cold turkey on the stuff.

I’ll keep you informed on my progress.