One for the Road


Alcohol, Public and Private

Alcohol is the anæsthesia by which we endure the operation of life.

- George Bernard Shaw


Firms Told to Sack Heavy Drinkers

London - Britain's employers are to be told to monitor their workers' drinking habits and to discipline and even sack those who overindulge, according to instructions being issued to all companies by the government.

Every organisation will be expected to develop an alcohol policy and lay down strict rules on how much their staff can consume in a week.  The code, drawn up by the Health and Safety Executive, says that employers should tell workers how the organisation expects them to limit their drinking, including at night, on their own time.  Employers are also advised to make misuse of alcohol part of their disciplinary code, which could lead to heavy drinkers being sacked.  Employers could introduce breathalyser tests or quiz people about their private lives.

The advice, which will be incorporated in the first National Alcohol Plan to be produced by health ministers next month, says: "While for many people drinking alcohol is a positive part of life and does not cause any problems, the misuse of alcohol can lead to reduced productivity, taking time off work, and accidents at work."

It says employers should "adopt an alcohol policy, in consultation with their staff", to include limits on drinking, how help will be offered, and the point at which drinking becomes a matter for discipline.

Alcohol Concern's assistant director, Sue Boon, said: "Companies do have a right to ask staff about their drinking habits and to lay down a policy.  Drinking the night before or at lunchtime could affect performance.  Alcohol misuse is mainly a health issue, but if drinking starts to impinge on work colleagues then it does become a health and safety issue."

Senior Conservative Party members ridiculed the plans, saying that the government had no business encouraging employers to interfere in heir workers' private lives.  A spokesman for shadow health secretary Liam Fox said: "We are a little surprised at indications that employers will be encouraged to take such an interest in their staff's drinking in their private time."

Tory Yorkshire East MP and wine merchant John Townend said the guidelines were "a gross infringement of human rights".  He said: "It's fair enough to sack someone such as a driver who turns up drunk, but what other staff do in their own time is no business of their employers or the government.  This is typical of big boss Blair's attempt to nanny the nation." - Daily Telegraph

Source: The Dominion, 7 August 2000

Bar Womb Brawl?

by Pete Hamill

A good bar is a womb.  I don't think it's sentimentalizing or romanticizing it to acknowledge the power of that.  What I call "the drinking life" or "the culture of drink" includes not just the stuff that's in the glass but everything that goes with it.  A great bar when it's working has an element of forgiveness in it.  If you're a total idiot, your friends forgive you.

Source: Anderson Valley Advertiser Boonville, California

Pitching Plonk

by Tony Hendra

For every male or female Jekyll who drinks themselves into Hydean viciousness, 10 others become happier, funnier or go to sleep more relaxed.  We who know how to drink, men and women who delight in the stuff, grape or grain, perhaps daily, perhaps weekly, who (yes) love the taste and (yes) know when to stop, are alas, in the vast majority.  If we weren't, and the truth were as the neo-Carrie Nations claim it is, the country, indeed most countries, could not have functioned, ever, in all off recorded history.  Life doesn't, pace the progressives, get better all the time.  The arrow of life is decay; the dents in the car, the crow's-feet at the eyes, the yellowing of the piano keys.  Were it not for means of temporary escape from that reality, one of the more enduring of which is alcohol, most of humanity would simply give up.  And however much the prohibitionists fulminate, there is no escape from people's need to escape.  Alcohol is there to help.  Whatever modestly ironic intelligence put the planet together decreed that from decay comes the means to keep decay at bay.

Source: Anderson Valley Advertiser 30 March 94

From my journal 18 October 94:

Next, I'm dumping everything I have on file regarding alcoholism.  Does my information differ from real-life experience?  (Because I haven't read a concise definition of alcoholism and because alcohol's long-term effects mount slowly, I'm not sure how much alcohol is too much.  Is any at all too much?)

From Science, the 11 January, 1985 issue:

People have struggled long and hard to get alcoholism recognised as a disease rather than as a moral failing.  Most experts, however, do not regard alcoholism as any more - or less - a disease than, say, heroin addiction.  Although a biological vulnerability to alcoholism has been demonstrated (but not identified), NIDA [National Institute of Drug Abuse] intramural research chief Jerome Jaffe notes that "anyone who gets hooked on anything has a [differential] biological vulnerability," since no substance is universally addictive.

I understand this to mean that certain people are more likely than others to become alcoholics, based on their genes.  I would assume that the genes determine the likelihood that alcohol will be abused while the environment determines whether the opportunity to abuse alcohol presents itself, allowing genetic predisposition to be realised.

NIDA director [William] Pollin wants to give smoking full blown status as an addictive disorder (he claims it's "no different from heroin or cocaine").  He is confident than "we will soon find a common biological pathway for all addictions."

Do an addict's cravings cease over time?  Or do they cease only for certain types of people?  (If so, WHAT types?)  Or do cravings cease only for certain drugs?  Are there rules about these things, or is everyone pretty much unique?

Alexander Glassman of Columbia University has found that clonidine, an antihypertensive drug that has been found to modify withdrawal symptoms of alcohol and opiates, also blocks nicotine withdrawal, by calming noradrenergic activity in the locus coeruleus.  Glassman thinks it possible that even if different drugs achieve their rewarding effects through different the locus coeruleus may be a common area for physical craving and withdrawal.

Interestingly, clonidine has the painkilling strength of morphine without morphine's most common and dangerous side effects: drowsiness, slowness of breath and risk of addiction.  Clonidine is the injectable, painkilling form of a new class of synthetic drugs called alpha 2-adrenergic agonists.  It blocks pain messages from reaching the brain rather than numbing an area of the body.  So - when does a medicine become a drug?

Should clonidine be made available upon request to alcohol, heroin, and nicotine addicts?  What constitutes "abuse" of a drug?  Does it depend on the drug, or on the drug-taker?  What are clonidine's side-effects?

The classic definition of addiction, which includes physical withdrawal symptoms, is now being rethought.  [Roy] Wise [of Concordia University in Montreal] has found that in rats, brain sites for reward and withdrawal appear to be separate.  Furthermore, the experience with cocaine has demonstrated that a drug can be powerfully addicting without producing withdrawal.

Is basic hunger no more than a withdrawal symptom?  Have we become addicted to food?  (If so, then some people are certainly more addicted to food than others.)

Growing recognition of the importance of psychological factors has persuaded researchers that "dependence" is a more comprehensive and appropriate term than "addiction."  In fact, Pollin favours an "institute on addictive behaviours" that would allow for research on disorders of impulse control such as gambling, which bears all the behavioural hallmarks of an addiction.

From Science, the 24 April 1987 issue:

There are different subgroups of alcoholics.  First, individuals who have persistent alcohol-seeking behaviours ("inability to abstain entirely") and second, those who can abstain from alcohol for long periods but are unable to terminate drinking binges once they start ("loss of control").

Later work has shown that alcohol-seeking behaviour in adolescence and early adulthood [the inability-to-abstain person] is associated with impulsivity, risk-taking, and a tendency to antisocial behaviour, such as fighting in bars and arrests for reckless driving when intoxicated.  In contrast, loss of control [the binger] is associated with guilt and fear about dependence on alcohol these individuals are emotionally dependent, rigid, perfectionistic, and introverted.

They need alcohol to be outgoing.

Alcoholics with loss of control usually begin to have problems in late adulthood after an extended period of exposure to heavy drinking that is socially encouraged, such as drinking at lunch with co-workers; abusers with an inability to abstain usually begin to experiment with alcohol early, regardless of external circumstances.

The development of the loss of control [type of alcoholism] is associated with traits characteristic of individuals with "anxious" personality: (i) one who is eager to help others, emotionally dependent, warmly sympathetic, sentimental, sensitive to social cues, and persistent, (ii) one who is cautious, apprehensive, pessimistic, inhibited, shy, and susceptible to fatigue, and (iii) one who is rigid, reflective, loyal, orderly, and attentive to details.

In contrast, the development of [the] spontaneous alcohol-seeking behaviour or inability to abstain [type of alcoholism] is associated with traits characteristic of individuals with a personality which is the reverse: (i) one who is impulsive, exploratory, excitable, disorderly, and distractible, (ii) one who is confident, relaxed, optimistic, uninhibited, carefree, and energetic, and (iii) one who is socially detached, emotionally cool, practical, tough-minded, and independently self-willed.

Curiously, the inability-to-abstain type of alcoholics who are currently not drinking are distractible, impulsive, and easily bored.

Alcohol helps some people to "focus."  This type of alcoholic frequently also has a problem with cocaine.

From the book, Alcoholism: Origins and Outcome reviewed in the New England Journal of Medicine, 28 April, 1988:

Contrary to popular belief, alcoholism does not always follow a downhill course or lead to irreversible loss of control.  Even without treatment, many people stop drinking on their own (spontaneous remission) or are able to modify their consumption.  The prevalence rate for alcohol dependence falls off among persons over the age of 40.

Such findings as these constitute the basis of the recent controversy over whether the primary treatment goal must remain total abstinence or whether chronic alcoholics can be taught to control their drinking.

Alcoholics Anonymous resembles some religious systems in that it seeks to control drinking through reliance on a higher power, the quest for forgiveness, and reaching out to others in need.

If you define an alcoholic as a "person of lower power who drinks, who feels uncomfortable guilt about it, and who is basically altruistic," then I'll agree that AA can help ALL alcoholics.  I think it's equivalent to a lobotomy - too radical.)  There are other alcoholic recovery management networks, many of whom have a better success rate, including Women/Men for Sobriety, Save Our Selves/Secular Organisations for Sobriety, and Rational Recovery.

Since alcohol is too useful socially (overcoming natural shyness, allowing people to get to know each other more easily) and also because attempts at banning it in the past have clearly not worked, it will continue to be used and to be a problem.

Relax, We Are Alcoholic by Nature

by Anjana Ahuja

The next time you delight in a glass of wine, rest assured that you are continuing an important ancestral tradition.

Scientists have speculated that a nose for alcohol was a handy survival tactic for primates in the jungle, and the genes that encoded this predilection survived into modern man.  The presumed evolutionary basis of our attraction to alcohol may explain why alcoholism has become a scourge of Western society.

All primates are frugivorous, or fruit-eating.  Chimpanzees, our closest relatives, as well as gibbons and orangutans, feed predominantly on the stuff.  Fruits are most nutritious when ripe - the sugar content soars, making them an excellent source of energy.  As the ripening progresses, yeasts ferment the sugar, turning it to ethanol.  This process produces distinctive smells, which can help observers to determine which fruits on the jungle floor are sweet enough to be eaten.  This is a foraging technique apparently used by chimps and gorillas, which have a fondness for over-ripe fruit.  Birds, butterflies and elephants are also drawn to the smell - there are even stories of elephants being found inebriated.  This ingrained preference for ethanol, argues Robert Dudley, a biologist at the University of Texas, gives them a survival advantage, because the chemical is rich in calories.

Moderate alcohol consumption is, we now know, also good for health.  Precisely because it conferred such advantages, Mr Dudley argues, the preference persisted through the evolutionary line that led to human beings.  There is a downside.  Our inherited palates may have given us a taste for alcohol in small quantities - over-ripe fruit has an ethanol content of about 5% - but the ethanol content of most alcoholic drinks is much higher.

"Patterns of alcohol use by human beings in contemporary environments may reflect a maladaptive co-option of ancestral nutritional strategies," Mr Dudley has written.  In other words, alcoholism is an evolutionary trait gone wrong.  That makes it rather similar to our love of fatty foods.  Consuming fats is a good strategy when food Is in short supply and reserves are needed to get through lean periods, but it leads to obesity when fat-rich foods are freely available.

One piece of circumstantial evidence in Mr Dudley's favour is the heritability of alcoholism.  That is not to say that the offspring of alcoholics are predestined to abuse alcohol themselves.  However, having an alcoholic parent is a potent risk factor.  This suggests that genes playa part in the way we respond to alcohol.  Interestingly, that genetic propensity differs among races.  The Japanese vary greatly in their ability to break down alcohol, supposedly because some are descended from teetotal Stone Age peoples and lack a gene important to processing ethanol. - The Times

Source: The Dominion Monday 30 October 2000

Study Links Cravings for Sweets, Alcohol

Studies on twins suggest that, in men, a strong craving for sweets is linked to a tendency to alcoholism, and the cause may be genetic, researchers say.  Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, led by David Overstreet, studied 19 pairs of male twins, none of whom had been diagnosed as alcoholic.  "Those individuals who reported drinking more alcohol on occasion and having more alcohol-related problems also had problems with controlling how many sweets they ate," Overstreet says.  The finding could lead to a screening test for youngsters and might allow early alcohol education and intervention.  The researchers note that not everyone with a sweet tooth became an alcoholic, but the men who liked the most intense sweets also tended to like alcohol more.

Source: USA Today Wednesday 8 November 2000

Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beer Holder

Beauty may be in the eye of the beer holder rather than the beholder, according to a new study by scientists.  Academics in Scotland have found proof of the so-called "beer goggles" effect, following a study involving 80 students.

The researchers wanted to measure the infamous phenomenon by which members of the opposite sex become more attractive more alcohol is consumed.  They found that men and women who have drunk a moderate amount of alcohol find the faces of the opposite sex 25% more attractive than their sober counterparts.  The study also revealed there was no difference in the beer goggle effect between men and women.

Anyone can look like this after a few drinks!

Students at Glasgow University were shown colour photos of 120 male and female students from St Andrews University aged 18 to 26.  Participants were asked to rate their aesthetic properties on a scale of between one - highly unattractive - to seven - highly attractive.  Half of the students had drunk up to four units of alcohol, equivalent to a maximum of around 2 pints of lager or 2½ glasses of wine.

The 40 tipsy æsthetes rated the people in the photographs as broadly more attractive than their abstemious counterparts.  Professor Barry Jones, from Glasgow University's psychology department and his fellow academic, Ben Jones, from St Andrews University, led the study.

The effect works for women as well

Prof Jones said: "Everyone's heard of the beer goggles effect but we wanted to measure once and for all whether a moderate amount of alcohol increases the judgement of facial attractiveness.  "The increase in perceived attractiveness appeared to be the same for the ugly people as the pretty people.  Attractiveness provides a very important signal of mate quality, it shows you have good genes and a healthy body."  He said the beer goggles phenomenon is caused by alcohol stimulating the part of the human brain which is used to determine facial attractiveness, the nucleus accumbens.

The academic, whose previous studies have found that a moderate alcohol intake can increase the risk of having unprotected sex, will present his latest findings at the International Congress on Behavioural Medicine in Finland later this month.

Source: Sunday 18 August 2002

Sobering Findings for Teetotallers

Teetotallers are less healthy, financially worse off and more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression than those who drink in moderation, a new study says.  Psychiatrists who studied thousands of non-drinkers in Australia and Britain said the non-drinkers suffered many of the serious illnesses found in heavy drinkers and were likely to live shorter lives than those who enjoyed drinking the odd tipple.  They also had less social contact and were not as fun-seeking as their drinking counterparts.

Psychiatrist Bryan Rodgers, of the Psychiatric Epidemiology Research Centre at the Australian National University in Canberra, presented the findings at an Auckland School of Medicine seminar.  Dr Rodgers believed it was the first study of its kind on non-drinkers.  The results, published in The Lancet medical journal, are likely to reinforce claims that drinking alcohol in moderation is good for you.  The team studied 2,700 male and female teetotallers in Canberra aged 18 to 79 and 9,500 non-drinkers in Britain.  The results showed that heavy drinkers and abstainers have higher mortality rates than moderate drinkers.

Moderate drinkers were classed as men who drink between 11 and 35 units of alcohol a week and between six and 20 units for women.  Heavy drinkers were those women who drank more than 20 units a week, and men who drank more than 35.  One unit equals half a pint of beer, a measure of spirits or one glass of wine.  "The results came as a shock as we were initially concerned with problems of anxiety and depression in people with alcohol problems," Dr Rodgers said.  "We found non-drinkers had levels of depression second only to people drinking hazardous levels of alcohol.

"Non-drinkers actually ended up looking worse than drinkers.  Past studies have always focused on drinkers and we understand it is the first psychiatric study of non-drinkers.  As well as suffering greater depression and poorer health than drinkers, we found non-drinkers were more likely to earn less money and enjoyed less social contact than drinkers."  Dr Rodgers said he hoped the results would lead to further studies of the medical benefits of alcohol. - NZPA

Source: One of the two Wellington newspapers; unfortunately, I no longer know the date either.

This article should have indicated whether or not Dr Rodgers drank.  If he is a drinker - and his adoption of a very liberal definition of "moderate" drinker leads me to suspect that he is - then I propose that his interpretation of results could be somewhat biased.  (Drinkers - like other drug-takers - tend to want to vindicate their habits.)

If people self-medicate with alcohol to relieve stress, then their status should be compared to others who have low stress levels, but who achieved it in some other way - for example through healthy living.  Not stated was the percentage of the teetotallers who were once drinkers.  Did they stop drinking because their liver was cirrhosing?  That could bring down the overall average health of the non-drinkers - et cetera.

But Officer, I Only Had Two Beers!

Let's have one more beer and then we'll head back to work

Source: the web

Drink without Drinking

by David Jones

The liver is a vigilant guardian of our health.  All the blood from the stomach and digestive tract passes through it before entering general circulation.  Any poisons or dangerous substances we have swallowed are likely to be detoxified by the liver before they can do any damage.  This prudent arrangement annoys pharmacologists, many of whose drugs are badly degraded by the liver before they can reach the organ in need of them.  It also sabotages drinkers, for the liver rapidly oxidizes alcohol.  So Daedalus is looking for some way of by-passing the liver.  Dedicated alcoholics could then get drunk on far less alcohol.

Direct injection seems an unattractive option.  Skin-absorption seems better, yet few drinkers would want to sit in a bath of beer.  But Daedalus recalls that the skin is very permeable to fatty substances.  Suppose the alcohol was converted into fatty ester such as ethyl oleate, and smeared on the skin.  It would be absorbed rapidly.  Once inside, the body's esterases would hydrolyse it to alcohol.  The challenge is to smear the ester on a site whose subsurface blood flows, not towards the liver, but to the brain.  Somewhere on the neck, over the carotid artery, might perhaps work.  The alcohol would then reach the target organ directly, without wastefully saturating all the rest of the tissues.  A very small quantity, easily within smearing volume, would suffice; and the liver would be helpless to intervene.

So would the taxman.  Ethyl oleate, not being alcohol, would be free of excise duty.  Even if the law caught up with the trick and deemed ethyl esters to be potable alcohol, the duty on such a small amount would be trivial.

Even the excuse for excise duty, the social damage caused by alcohol, would largely vanish.  Daedalus' "Rubbing Alcohol" will give the user total control of his habit.  With such small quantities in play, he will reach and maintain his desired state of intoxication very rapidly.  And when the ester has been absorbed and metabolised, he will recover sobriety equally fast.  After a cheerful evening's ester carouse, he could sober up in minutes and drive home entirely safely.  He might, of course, wish to maintain tradition by drinking large amounts of alcohol-free wine or beer at the same time.  His liver would be relieved of its burden; his bladder would not.

The Further Inventions of Daedalus is published by Oxford University Press

Source: Nature volume 405 18 May 2000

Another Way to Drink without Drinking

Bottled Water

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