You can drink, but don’t enjoy it

An unapologetic drinker, writer H.L. Mencken blamed Prohibition on American moralists’ distaste for happiness. “A Puritan is not against bullfighting because of the pain it gives the bull,” he wrote, “but because of the pleasure it gives the spectators.”

Today’s neo-prohibitionists know that fist-banging sermons about demon rum sound dated, so they’ve medicalized the warnings: Alcohol causes cancer and insanity. And they bury research showing the medical benefits of moderate drinking under extremely low-ball definitions of “moderate.”

“Does alcohol make you fat?” is an incarnation recently aired in The Wall Street Journal. Half the experts quoted warn that drinking alcohol puts weight on. The other half said that it helps control weight.

The cautioners belong to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. It should surprise no one that an institute so named would not smile on the fruit of the vineyards.

Before we go on, a disclaimer. Alcoholism is a curse, and those so afflicted must learn to not drink at all. But for non-alcoholics, drinking should be the imbiber’s business, assuming of course that the person is not driving while inebriated.

Ironically, the neo-prohibitionist approach may be counterproductive to the problem of drunken driving. The national blood-alcohol limit for drivers has been continually lowered to the current 0.08 percent. But the hideous cases of drunken driving almost always involve motorists way beyond that limit.

In Seattle last March, a driver with a preliminary breath-alcohol level of 0.22 killed a couple and seriously injured two young family members as they crossed a street. That’s three times the legal limit. And as is often learned in such tragedies, the driver was a repeat offender, arrested twice in the previous months for drunken driving.

Critics of demands for still lower blood-alcohol limits argue that they pull harmless social drinkers into the dragnet, wasting resources better spent on putting the hard-core offenders behind bars. The founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) quit the organization in 1985 for what she charged was one such neo-prohibitionist turn.

“I didn’t start MADD to deal with alcohol,” Candy Lightner said. “I started MADD to deal with the issue of drunk driving.”

Back at the debate over drinking and weight, puritanical thinking often bubbles up from an evident concern for health. Consider the research cited in the journal Physiology &Behavior that alcohol may enhance “the short-term rewarding effects of consuming food.” What’s wrong with that? Besides, wine cultures — Italy and France, for example — tend to have slender people.

Perhaps wine marries well with healthy food choices, as in the Mediterranean diet. Perhaps moderate alcohol consumption relaxes those who overeat as a response to stress.

The Wall Street Journal referenced studies at the Harvard Medical School suggesting that alcohol in moderation actually helps maintain weight. Researcher Eric Rimm noted that after drinking alcohol, people’s heart rate rose, causing them to burn more calories. The increase in calorie burning was small, he carefully added, and that desire to lose weight is not reason to drink.

Another theory is that female drinkers eat fewer sweet foods because alcohol arouses the same pleasure center in the brain as do sugary things. Again, that darn pleasure center. (Sorry, guys, the jury’s still out on how you react.)

Good science accepts that temperate drinking protects somewhat against heart disease and has been associated with a lower risk for dementia. And the Nurses’ Health Study found that while alcohol does raise the risk for breast cancer, adequate intake of folic acid may cancel it.

If you can drink responsibly and want to, go ahead. Just don’t say you enjoy it.

Froma Harrop is a Providence Journal columnist. Her email address is fharrop@projo.com

More in Opinion

Editorial cartoons for Wednesday, Nov. 21

A sketchy look at the day in politics.… Continue reading

Editorial: State’s VW windfall should electrify transportation

With nearly $113 million from the settlement, the state plans to switch buses and more to electric.

Parker: The press secretary as scolding Sunday school teacher

Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ humiliation of the media is a booster shot of ‘fake news’ animus for the base.

Milbank: Trump will do down in history — for his histrionics

A website search finds that Trump and his team have declared their actions historic some 400 times.

Ignatius: For a man ‘on his way out,’ Tillerson still at table

The secretary of state seems out of sync with Trump, but often it’s Trump who comes to his position.

GOP tax bill serves special interests over families

Last month Congress passed a budget that makes $4 trillion in cuts… Continue reading

Examples of ‘voter fraud’ didn’t involve voting

The Nov 11 letter to the editor captioned “Evidence of vopter fraud… Continue reading

Why was judge given lighter sentence for DUI?

This is in response to the Nov. 2 Herald article, “Judge gets… Continue reading

Herald’s story selection favors the left

Hello again. This time I want to remind you of your consistent… Continue reading

Most Read