Researchers keep finding that those whose alcohol consumption is one glass of red wine most days, and only that, have a longer lifespan due to fewer heart problems. I find that interesting.
I wonder if it’s the little bit of wine that helps the heart, or maybe something else, or maybe both. I imagine the people who can drink that way carry with them higher levels of self-control and lower levels of personal distress. Certainly these are good for the heart too.
So I don’t conclude from the research as some do that all non-drinkers would be better off drinking a glass of wine every day, because the wine may not be what helps people live longer. Also because, they may be one of those people who are not able to stop at one drink per day.
“Oh but I wouldn’t be one of those,” many have said. Well, if your childhood or adulthood
featured immediate family members who were active alcoholics, addicts, abusers, abandoners, or chronic creators of chaos and crisis, your risk of being unable to control your drinking is fairly high. You may have only one chance for not becoming an alcoholic or turning out just like your dysfunctional role models: not taking your first drink, or not taking your next one.
You may have inherited an allergy to alcohol. That would allow you to feel its buzz and disinhibition, but when these wear off in a half hour, every cell in your body would feel the discomfort and not know why. Your brain would only know it felt fine a few minutes ago, and it will think that what will get it back there is another drink. That is what makes one drink trigger another, because for the alcoholic, when the drink wears off, it leaves him feeling much worse than when he first took it.
OK, but what about the vast majority of Americans who in fact can and do control their drinking? What about those who aspire to be healthy, under-control drinkers? How can they know if they are indeed drinking in a way that will enhance and not hurt their lives and families?
I believe there are healthy reasons for people to have a drink of alcohol. I would propose that it’s healthy to celebrate and enhance a moment that is already(without alcohol) relaxing, fun or otherwise worthy of being celebrated or intensified. I imagine that’s part of why Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding in Cana. And that’s why I like being in those situations even more when others are using alcohol appropriately—it lights them up a bit more, and through them, the whole occasion for all healthy people.
On the other hand, we should certainly ask what might be some UNHEALTHY reasons and situations to drink? I believe it is unhealthy for people to drink when (and especially because or in spite of) being bored, lonely, angry, ashamed, anxious, behind the wheel of a car, feeling sorry for themselves, feeling social pressure to fit in, just feeling out of the blue a desire to drink, or (even thinking of) doing something they might need to lie about later, including the drinking itself.
Now if you want to be in those unpleasant and awkward situations more and more, and I say this sarcastically, adding alcohol to them will get you there more often. Why is that?
Because alcohol makes us celebrate and justify whatever we are doing at the time, and intensify whatever we are feeling. Alcohol expands whateverwe pour it on. This explains why those who drink for those unhealthy reasons find themselves in those situations and emotions more and more. And that’s why when people drink just to celebrate the opportunity to drink, it’s a red flag for oncoming alcoholism.
So in conclusion, for your guidelines in a nutshell, the healthy way to drink a chemical that kills brain cells would be when you’ve had fairly healthy homes in childhood and now, when you will be content with drinking lightly, when you know you’re not an alcoholic, when you won’t need to lie later about what you’re doing, when you’re not tense or unhappy in any way, when you’re not driving or craving a drink, and when you are celebrating an occasion that you would naturally enjoy without alcohol. If that’s now and that’s you, well then I’ll raise a glass to this delightful moment, and toast your wonderful life.
Dr. Paul Schmidt is a psychologist with offices in Lexington, Shelbyville and Middletown, mynewlife.com