Posted 111 days ago
It's hard for an article like this not to triumph. Alcohol is such an important part of culture and our personal lives. It enables us to go outside our box, do things that we maybe wouldn't have done otherwise, and have stories to tell for years. It can have glamour to it, single-malt scotch or fancy cocktails, and provide a sense of social status. But it also has a horrible dark side. As Julian writes: "From 1999 to 2017, the number of alcohol-related deaths in the U.S. doubled, to more than 70,000 a year—making alcohol one of the leading drivers of the decline in American life expectancy."
So Julian takes the perspective: what is it in our society that allows alcoholism to cause so much harm? She compares us to Italy, saying "despite widespread consumption of alcohol, Italy has some of the lowest rates of alcoholism in the world." Is there something unique about American alcohol consumption that brings problems with it?
She first looks back at history and concludes that we have always had a problem with alcohol. She writes:
George Washington first won elected office, in 1758, by getting voters soused. (He is said to have given them 144 gallons of alcohol, enough to win him 307 votes and a seat in Virginia’s House of Burgesses.)
She quotes the historian W.J. Rorabaugh saying that Americans, during much of the founding of the United States, "lived in isolation and independence than ever before or since." Prohibition came around, whcih many people lament and say was ridiculous, but the simple fact of the matter is that it resulted:
in a dramatic reduction in American drinking. In 1935, two years after repeal, per capita alcohol consumption was less than half what it had been early in the century. Rates of cirrhosis had also plummeted, and would remain well below pre-Prohibition levels for decades.
Unfortunately, and perhaps obviously, Julian never quite gets around to the question everybody wants to know: how much should I be drinking? The simple answer is that it depends on what and where and how, and there is no simple medical answer to "you should drink X bottles of beer a week." The closest she gets to a conclusion is the following:
According to an analysis in The Washington Post some years back, to break into the top 10 percent of American drinkers, you needed to drink more than two bottles of wine every night. People in the next decile consumed, on average, 15 drinks a week, and in the one below that, six drinks a week. The first category of drinking is, stating the obvious, very bad for your health. But for people in the third category or edging toward the second, like me, the calculation is more complicated.
That's really all we can hope for for advice. Moderation and do it so it makes your life more positive if possible.