Ahhh, alcohol. It’s a substance that most of us imbibe, and yet it tends to come hand in hand with a love-hate relationship. Partaking in this social lubricant is considered by many to be a wonderful way to unwind. In fact, if we were to extract the pure alcohol from everyone’s favourite tipples, we’d find that the average adult consumes 6.4 litres per year! That’s according to a 2016 global study from Our World In Data.
“Almost anything can be preserved in alcohol, except health, happiness, and money.” — Mary Wilson Little
Of course, alcohol also comes with consequences, including a spectrum of increased risks to our health. Its addictive nature can leave some of us in trouble, and can provide a slippery slope indeed. All of this means that many live with a nagging question in mind: should I be drinking, or not? Does indulging in a drink or two steer us away from success, or can alcohol be a part of a fulfilling and happy life? Unsurprisingly, the answer is complicated; a range of personal factors are in play. With this in mind, and in order to perhaps help you navigate towards the right personal conclusion, we’ve stacked up the drinking habits of some of society’s most esteemed — and pulled together some illuminating information to keep them company!
Great Minds and Human History
Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, was a notorious teetotaller. Interestingly, in contrast, business magnate and all around of-the-moment guy Elon Musk — although not a big drinker — reportedly enjoys the odd whiskey. So, how did humanity’s love affair with alcohol come about in the first place? Robert Dudley from the University of California, Berkeley, proposes in his so-called “drunken monkey” hypothesis that our ape ancestors evolved a genetic mutation some 12 million years ago that allowed them to digest the alcohols in over ripe fruit. If we are indeed each grappling with millions of years of imbibing heritage when we decide whether to head to the bar on a Friday night, the extent of the quandary can hardly be considered surprising!
“Alcohol may be man’s worst enemy, but the bible says love your enemy.” — Frank Sinatra
Turning our attention to recent American presidents, we can discover that the 44th president, Barack Obama, is partial to beer, wine, and even the occasional Martini. In contrast, 45th president Donald trump is another rider of the teetotal bandwagon. While a tipple no doubt has the capacity to cloud our judgement, or leave us with a hangover, science poses an argument for not only why we like it so much, but also why it might — for some — be considered beneficial. Not long ago, we explored the importance of human connection for well-being, and in this area alcohol plays an interesting part. Not only does alcohol cause us to lose our social inhibitions, making us feel more chummy, but it also chemically assists us in building bonds. When we hit the drink, our endorphin system is impacted, releasing opiate-like neurotransmitters that liberate us to forge a sense of trust with our co-consuming companions.
A Question Of Balancing The Scales?
While too much alcohol can dent our immunity, putting us a greater risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease, the endorphins triggered by our tipsy social sessions can also offer some counter-tip to these all-important scales. This chemical chain reaction activates the body’s T-cells, fine-tuning our immune system in the process. A recent study from the British Medical Journal revealed results that appear to support the idea that there is a potential balance to be struck. Binge drinkers be warned, however, as the results suggest there is a sweet-spot.
Monitoring retired civil servants over the course of several decades, the study deduced that both those who consumed more alcohol that the official government guidelines advise in their forties and fifties, and those who consumed no alcohol during this time were at a disadvantage when it came to risk of dementia. In fact, those who didn’t drink at all had a 50% greater risk of developing dementia than moderate drinkers! Unsurprisingly, heavy drinkers, considered to be those who drink a bottle of wine or equivalent per day or more, were found to have doubled their risk. Perhaps Oprah Winfrey — who blames her love of tequila shots for a detrimental impact on her waistline — is not so far off base, after all?
Discovering What’s Right for You
Of course, there are many reasons why alcohol may be an unwelcome presence in our lives. It can be an expensive indulgence, leaving our wallets far more sparse than we’d like them to be! Just like Oprah, we may feel regret over the extra calories that tend to come with our favourite weekend refreshment. Alcohol consumption has been repeatedly tied to anxiety and depression, and if these gremlins are your foes, giving liquor the kick might be the best course of action.
The reality is that only we have the perspective take a cold hard look at whether our relationship with alcohol is adoring or abusive. For those of us racked by guilt — but having fun all the same — there can be comfort in knowing that alcohol is not necessarily sinister by default, and its consumption and our prosperity may not be mutually exclusive. Without an automatic obligation to recoil, perhaps we will each be better placed to assess whether we’d rather be Jobs or Musk. Not bad, in terms of options, eh?
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