Balancing the Risks & Benefits of Alcohol


The questions and answers about the pros and cons of drinking alcohol have been debated throughout history. How do we define moderation? Why does how much we drink and when (aka drinking patterns) matter? Why do the French, consumers of lots of wine, butter and cheese have lower cardiovascular disease than most? What’s the connection between alcohol and cancer? Do genetics play a role?

Leave it to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health to put out this largely encompassing piece about the risks and benefits of alcohol, how to balance them and just about everything in between. Read on…

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Throughout the 10,000 or so years that humans have been drinking fermented beverages, they’ve also been arguing about their merits and demerits. The debate still simmers today, with a lively back-and-forth over whether alcohol is good for you or bad for you.

It’s safe to say that alcohol is both a tonic and a poison. The difference lies mostly in the dose. Moderate drinking seems to be good for the heart and circulatory system, and probably protects against type 2 diabetes and gallstones. Heavy drinking is a major cause of preventable death in most countries. In the U.S., alcohol is implicated in about half of fatal traffic accidents. Heavy drinking can damage the liver and heart, harm an unborn child, increase the chances of developing breast and some other cancers, contribute to depression and violence, and interfere with relationships.

Alcohol’s two-faced nature shouldn’t come as a surprise. The active ingredient in alcoholic beverages, a simple molecule called ethanol, affects the body in many different ways. It directly influences the stomach, brain, heart, gallbladder, and liver. It affects levels of lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides) and insulin in the blood, as well as inflammation and coagulation. It also alters mood, concentration, and coordination.

What’s Moderate Alcohol Intake? What’s a Drink?

Loose use of the terms “moderate” and “a drink” has fueled some of the ongoing debate about alcohol’s impact on health.

To read the entire article, click here.


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Drinking At the Movies

greta garbo drinking“Gif me a viskey…and don’t be stingy, baby!”

Oh, to have a shot of whiskey with Greta Garbo. Martinis with Myrna Loy.  A glass of full-bodied red with Meryl Streep. I always wished I could sip along with the movie characters on the big screen; and recently, I realized I could.

Maybe I’m behind the times, but I was thrilled when on a visit to my hometown (Bethesda, Maryland), I went to the movies with my parents and found an elegant, fully stocked bar right in the center of the multiplex movie theater.

My father always insists on arriving maddeningly early, so instead of sulking alongside my teenage daughter, who prefers to breeze in at the last minute, I sat in a red leather chair with my glass of Pinot Noir. When the usher overheard me saying I’d have to hurry to finish the glass before the movie started, he shook his head. “No, you can bring it in,” he said.

Ah, heaven on earth. The seats at this theater were reserved, so I didn’t have to stress about being edged out by another neurotic movie-nut Woody Allen fan like myself. And the seats were roomy, with a cup holder perfect for my (clear plastic) wine glass.

By the time the movie started, with the jazz music that signaled the start of another cinematic treat from Woody Allen, I was pleasantly buzzed. That one glass was just right, although I wouldn’t have minded being able to raise my hand for another. But then I wouldn’t have been able to feel slightly superior to Cate Blanchett’s vodka-swilling character Jasmine, who didn’t know when to stop.

If you, too, want to drink at the movies, here’s a guide to some movie theaters that serve booze.

And here’s an interesting site, called Booze Movies, about drinking in the movies.



Presidential Debates Spur New Drinking Games

If you have a kid in college, chances are she’ll be all ears while watching the second presidential debate on October 16. She may be listening particularly closely to key words and phrases, such as “Obamacare” and “Al Qaeda.” Her focus, however, will not be intended for note taking or reporting back to her Poli Sci professor about diverging opinions on healthcare and homeland security. Rather, she’ll be listening for her cue to down a vodka shot or swig from a gin and tonic.

When I heard about the latest round of debate drinking games, my first thought was how my seventh grader likely came away from the first presidential showdown with more knowledge than my college sophomore. She just probably woke up with a hangover. And my second thought–I probably would’ve been doing the exact same thing back in 1980-something. Or maybe I did and just don’t remember.

In any event, there’s more debate drinking to be done with both the upcoming Vice Presidential debate and the next Obama v. Romney face-off at Hofstra University.

The College Humor site had a long list of potential drinking cues, and even a couple that involve abstaining. Here are some highlights:

• Take a sip every time Obama starts a sentence with “Look…”

• Take a sip every time Mitt Romney awkwardly chuckles.

• Take a sip every time a candidate refers to his wife.

• Politely refrain from drinking every time Mormonism is mentioned.

• Get your infrared goggles and chug in the dark every time the killing of Osama bin Laden is mentioned.

• Take two sips every time Romney mispronounces a black or Hispanic person’s name.

• Take a shot and then two more any time Mitt Romney makes a genuinely funny joke.

• If you agree with everything a particular candidate says, finish your Kool-Aid.

You get the picture. All I know is that come October 16th, I’ll likely be counting the number of times the candidates mention their wives or the term Mormonism, hoping my daughter is safely studying in the library rather than “watching” the debate.

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Lena Dunham, Caitlin Moran, Sheila Heti and Hope Solo: Why We As a Culture Are In Love With Women Who Drink

These are the next four items on my cultural to-do list:

*Watch Lena Dunham’s GIRLS (yes, I admit I’m way behind on this one, but I’m dying to see it and I’ve read a lot about it.)

*Read Caitlin Moran’s hit memoir, HOW TO BE A WOMAN, exported from the UK

*Read Sheila Heti’s hipster-chick “reality-style” novel, HOW SHOULD A PERSON BE?

*Watch badass goalie Hope Solo lead the U.S. Soccer Team to victory (I hope!) in the 2012 Olympics

I’m as enamored of these media darlings as everyone else. Why? Because they seem like women I’d want to hang out with: fun women; honest women; loose women (and by loose, I mean not uptight); quirkily gorgeous women; women who have their pulse on what’s cool; women who (as Peggy Orenstein describes Caitlin Moran in her profile on, have a “let’s all be feminists at the pub” charm. They’ve been called outrageous, funny, fearless.

They are–at least as portrayed by the media (and by themselves)–women who love to drink.

We seem to be in a cultural moment where we’re in love with women who love to drink. I’m not talking about women who drink to excess (who are subject to public shaming and ridicule–think Lindsay Lohan, and cocktail moms gone wild). I’m talking about a certain type of woman drinker: I’ll call her the laid-back drinker; the one who drinks and then goes on with her daily life, (seemingly). This may be a media construct, but it’s a powerful one.

A recent Daily Beast profile of star soccer goalie Hope Solo humanizes her by showing her in her hotel room as she’s being interviewed, drinking a mimosa (or two). Apparently, she appeared drunk on the Today show in 2008, and can be quite the partier.

The headline for Peggy Orenstein’s profile of Moran on reads, in part: “The drunken, furious, delightful life of Caitlin Moran…”

Drunken. Furious. Delightful.

What modern-day feminista wouldn’t thrill at the combination of the words furious and delightful? And then there’s that little frisson you get from the “drunken” part, because in our culture, it’s still considered transgressive to get drunk.

But is getting drunk really that transgressive, when drinking is more the norm (in America and the UK, at least) than not drinking?

If you read Orenstein’s profile, you’ll see that Moran is actually the responsible mother of two teenage daughters (she had them when she was 28), so to call her life “drunken” isn’t exactly accurate, since it’s kind of hard to raise really happy, really great girls (which Moran says she has) if you’re constantly sloshed.

In Orenstein’s profile, Moran says: “It’s always seen as this binary thing with women…You’re either going to be rock ‘n’ roll or you’re going to be a housewife. It’s either cupcakes or crack. I wanted both. And I got it.”  (She was joking about the crack part, but you get the picture—the free-wheeling drinker, I’ll call her—the woman who can drink as she pleases, and then switch gears at the drop of a hat, ditch the hangover, and nurture her daughters.).

So—big reveal—Moran is a mom who drinks. A cocktail mom!

As I read Orenstein’s profile, I felt a growing uneasiness. Moran tends to describe her memoir as “an update of Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch written from a bar stool.” How is sitting on a bar stool transgressive, I wondered? How is that new?

And what about Lena Dunham, who has been called“agonizingly funny” and “fearless” in Rolling Stone magazine, no less. A piece on Dunham on Gothamist ran with a map, complete with wine glasses marking the spots where Dunham loves to drink with her pals. The piece was titled, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun: Lena Dunham Tells Us Where She And Her Girls Hang.”

Because that’s what cool, fearless girls do when they hang out: they drink. Or so it seems.

Is this really what’s new and different about Lena Dunham?

Despite the fact that Sheila Heti’s fictional doppelganger, Sheila, and her friends engage in “prolific drinking and drugging” in HOW SHOULD A PERSON BE, they are, according to the LA Review of Books, “at bottom, quite wholesome: they hold most of their conversations during walks, they ride their bikes to each other’s houses.” Again with the wholesome, laid-back drinker thing.

I’m not trying to be a buzzkill here, and I’m not saying I wouldn’t like to hang out with these women. What I’m doing is questioning the pairing of fearless girl/feminist with drinker.

And again: Orenstein quotes Moran:  “Drunk women love me…I have cornered the market in wasted chicks who talk about their vag!” It’s easy to talk about your “vag” when you’re drunk, but what about when you’re sober? Do you dare to talk frankly, then? That’s even more transgressive, in my mind.

Of course they drink, you say, shaking your head. They’re part of our culture, and everyone drinks. You drink. Your husband drinks. Get over it.

(Except alcoholics. Poor them.)

Well yes. Yes.

But I guess I was hoping for some sort of paradigm shift, not the same old “feminists can drink men under the table” thing.

These women, at least as they’re being portrayed and portraying themselves, aren’t being outrageous, fearless and pathbreaking when they drink. They’re simply participating in what the dominant culture does.

Call them recorders of life. Call them absorbers, or mirrors. But don’t call them renegades.

In her interview, Moran names some of the women she idolizes:

“I just want Tina Fey to be my best friend…And Lena Dunham. And Oprah, too. I just want those three chicks to read it and say, ‘You did good.’ Just those three…And Roseanne Barr. Four. I only really want to sell four copies in America. If I can sell it to those four chicks … and Hillary. OK five. And Michelle Obama. OK six. If I could get those six women to read it …”

Tina Fey. Oprah. Michelle Obama. These three women are not, to my knowledge, big drinkers, and are certainly not portrayed as such.

The real issue is: perhaps the media is obscuring how radical these women really are, or could be, by focusing on the drinking.The drinking is the least special, least fearless thing about them, so why not highlight something else?

Maybe Moran nailed it by naming these women as her mentors. Maybe these non-hipsters are the outrageous ones, the true renegades, after all-the ones who dare to be uncool.

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Will My Kid Be an Underage Drinker because of Ads on TV?

My 11-year-old son watches a ton of sports on television. Weekday evenings (after his homework is done, of course) and weekend afternoons are often spent surfing from basketball to baseball and back again. If there’s a tennis match or horse racing on, he may watch that too. With all the game and tournament coverage, however, come a constant stream of commercials—a great number of which are for the likes of an ice cold Bud, Michelob, or Coors Light.

So do watching, singing along with and remembering these frequent beer and booze advertisements mean he is more likely to drink alcohol as an adolescent? Apparently, yes, that’s a distinct possibility, according to a new study reported in Science Daily.

In the study, conducted at the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, researchers questioned more than 2,500 young people ranging from 15 to 20 years old about their exposure to alcohol, if they had a favorite alcohol ad, and if they owned alcohol-branded merchandise, among other behaviors.

After being shown 20 images from the most popular TV ads for alcohol, with the brand names removed, the participants were then asked if they remembered the ads, liked the ads and knew about the products being advertised.

The results showed that 59 percent of underage kids drank alcohol. Of those who drank, 49 percent had engaged in binge drinking (had more than six drinks in a row) at least once the previous year. Familiarity with TV alcohol advertising was much higher among the drinkers than nondrinkers, and having alcohol-branded merchandise or having a favorite alcohol ad was linked to more hazardous drinking.

“Underage drinking remains an important health risk in the U.S.,” said lead author Susanne E. Tanski, MD, MPH, FAAP, assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. “In this study, we have shown a link between recognition of nationally televised alcohol advertisements and underage drinking initiation and heavier use patterns.”

I have to admit, I’ve never paid much attention to the product when my son calls me over to watch his favorite commercial of-the-moment. It’s usually the witty tune or humor that he’s urging me to notice. But after learning about this study and its results, I may encourage him to take a bathroom break or go grab a snack when the game on the screen is interrupted for a commercial break.

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