The earliest known production of alcoholic beverages dates back at least some 9,000 years to a type of grog brewed in China, according to archeologist Dr. Pat McGovern in a 2011 Smithsonian Magazine article authored by Abigail Tucker. Production of alcoholic drinks has long been associated with agriculture and as a contributor to human civilization.
Our ancestors probably discovered alcohol accidentally when they tasted substances with sugars that had fermented, such as cooked grain mashes, honey, or fruit, and felt their effects. Deliberate production of alcoholic beverages also allowed them to keep liquids potable for later consumption.
As McGovern suggested, alcoholic substances enabled their consumers to relax and feel good for a while. Are there other factors that may make alcoholic substances beneficial?
Is alcohol healthful? Last week’s column looked at drinking alcohol as a possible problem for persons in the agricultural population who drink heavily to reduce pain and when it is a cultural expectation.
Working or driving while inebriated is a major contributor to injuries and fatalities. This week we examine uses of alcohol that might be beneficial.
Medicinal properties of alcohol are mentioned 191 times in the Bible. A 2004 report by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism indicated the lowest death rate from all combined causes occurred when people regularly consumed one or two drinks daily.
A 2006 meta-analysis of 34 studies in the Archives of Internal Medicine involving 1,015,835 men and women found moderate consumption of alcohol (1-2 drinks of wine, beer or liquor per day for women and 2-4 for men) was associated with reduced risk of death. Both heavy consumption of alcoholic beverages and no consumption of alcohol increased the risk of heart disease and other contributors to mortality.
The publication, Alcohol Problems and Solutions, gave the following summary: “Moderate drinkers tend to have better health and live longer than those who are either abstainers or heavy drinkers. In addition to having fewer heart attacks and strokes, moderate consumers of alcoholic beverages (beer, wine and distilled spirits or liquor) are generally less likely to suffer strokes, diabetes, arthritis, enlarged prostate, dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease), and several major cancers” (http://www2.potsdam.edu/hansondj/AlcoholAndHealth.html).
Alcohol can advance society as well as contribute to its decline. It probably stoked the builders of the Egyptian pyramids. It helped many to carry out required duties when they endured harsh conditions.
Soldiers and sailors were often given alcohol as a form of compensation for their efforts. They relaxed after strenuous work. It sometimes helped them to not focus on negatives at least temporarily. Many ancient religious ceremonies incorporated alcohol consumption.
Alcohol sometimes enabled its users to sleep when rest was difficult. There is a sense in which alcohol made life more tolerable. It became a part of nearly every culture in existence today.
Drinking alcohol can be a hazard or a tool. When we consume alcohol and how much are key.
Because alcohol reduces our reaction time, accuracy of motor movements, impulse control, judgment, and sensations of pain and alarm, we should not consume the substance when we are expected to be fully alert and responsible. This means it is safest to not drink alcohol and drive or to combine alcohol consumption with work activities.
The legal blood alcohol limit for driving a personal vehicle such as a car is .08% or lower in all states; some states require .05% for driving a car. The legal limit for operation of a commercial truck is .04%. Some states require that drivers under age 21 must have less than .01% alcohol in their blood.
There are occasions when moderate amounts of alcohol can allow for freer thinking, such as creative endeavors. Perhaps this why some well-known writers (e.g., Ernest Hemingway) and musicians (certain classical and rock musicians whom I will not mention) have reputations for mixing alcohol with their work activities.
Alcohol use should be relegated to times and places for recreation and when there is sufficient time for alcohol to be metabolized before resuming responsible activities. This varies according to the amount consumed, body size, and the capacity of one’s body to metabolize alcohol.
Some people have an inherited intolerance to alcohol and exhibit symptoms similar to allergic response, with nasal congestion and a rash, while others overreact with rapid onset of symptoms of inebriation. There are many medical conditions and medications that require abstinence from alcohol. Pregnant women should not drink alcohol.
Diabetics must be careful how much and how quickly they consume alcohol. Medical advice should be sought beforehand whenever there are medical or behavioral health risks.
Another caution is that even though recommended amounts of daily alcohol consumption are 1-2 drinks for women and 2-4 drinks for men, if these amounts are consumed too quickly they can make one drunk.
The bottom line is: Make sure you control your alcohol use rather than have it control you. Need help? Call (800) 521-7128 or (866) 416-2862.
Dr. Rosmann is a Harlan Iowa psychologist and farmer. Readers can contact Dr. Rosmann at the website www.agbehavioralhealth.com.
By Mike Rosmann, Ph.D.