I’m Sorry If You Can’t Drink Alcohol

Stanton Peele By: Dr. Stanton Peele

Posted on June 12th, 2017 - Last updated: October 22nd, 2018
This content was written in accordance with our Editorial Guidelines.

It’s a regrettable loss to your life, which you may find necessary.

I have an older friend (even older than me!) who can no longer drink alcohol or coffee.

She has had an unusual drinking career. She came from a Midwestern WASP family who didn’t drink at home. She went to an Ivy League college at a time when it wasn’t expected that upper-middle class woman would attend university (although there were many women who did). She also didn’t drink at college.

After college, she began to hang out with Greek people, and started to drink like they did, primarily white wine at meals. She lived in Greece for years, and she drank wine with lunch and dinner daily—it was what she did. She also drank beer and ouzo. I won’t say that in the fifty-some years she drank that she’s never been drunk. But she’s very rarely been tipsy.

Now she ruefully surveys other people drinking coffee and alcohol—she doesn’t resent them, she just regrets her bygone drinking days.

I can deal with her because she values alcohol, she just can’t have it. I can’t deal with people who despise alcohol, who feel that they must repudiate it, argue it’s a poison, or believe that people who drink daily are ipso facto alcoholics.

I also can’t deal with people in AA. Sorry. Mary Karr is the author of the best-selling The Liars’ Club, an arresting memoir of a regretful—but a fun and alluring and aware—childhood and coming of age.

Karr is now a professor of English who, as well as belonging to AA, regularly falls to her knees in prayer in the course of her day.

Her life trajectory is described here:

“A dysfunctional family is any family with more than one person in it.” Mary Karr is beloved for her salty memoirs in which she traces her harrowing childhood in southeast Texas with a mother who once tried to kill her with a butcher’s knife and her own adult struggles with alcoholism and breakdown. She has a captivating ability to give voice to what is funny and wild in life’s most heartbreaking moments. Mary Karr embodies this wryness and wildness in her lesser-known spiritual practice as a devout Catholic—an unexpected move she made in mid-life.

Look at the first sentence of this passage (from NPR). It says that her family experience is more typical than not. And yet she has ended up living in extremis.

I view Mary Karr the way that I view my friend. I feel sorry for her. She’s not living life here on earth. Like a hermit on a mountain. Like people who can’t have sex. Only my friend has a physical disability that she earned with many long years of living. Karr had a spiritual disability that has ruled her adult life. I believe, her readers believe, and to some extent she believes (you can see it in the vividness of her writing) that her bittersweet youth is the essence of her life.

I did a piece for Pacific Standard that laid out the irrefutable evidence that alcohol is good for you, along with considering the pleasure from alcohol that the majority of people who drink experience, leading to this conclusion:

Human beings have grown up alongside alcohol: Beverage alcohol has been found at the site of every early center of civilization. The more alcohol a society consumes, the fewer alcohol-related problems and alcohol-related deaths (including cirrhosis) it has, since these societies, such as those in Southern Europe, integrate drinking with social life. And alcohol conveys health benefits. If you cannot drink (or believe that you cannot), you probably increase your likelihood of early death. If so, I am truly sorry for you.

Here are my cultural and personal rules for positive drinking:

In place of messages that lead to a dysfunctional combination of behavior and attitudes, a model of sensible drinking should be presented—drinking regularly but moderately, drinking integrated with other healthy practices, and drinking motivated, accompanied by, and leading to further positive feelings. Harburg, Gleiberman, DiFranceisco, and Peele (1994) have presented such a model, which they call “sensible drinking.” In this view, the following set of prescriptive and pleasurable practices and recommendations should be communicated to young people and others:

  1. Alcohol is a legal beverage widely available in most societies throughout the world.
  2. Alcohol may be misused with serious negative consequences.
  3. Alcohol is more often used in a mild and socially positive fashion.
  4. Alcohol used in this fashion conveys significant benefits, including health, quality-of-life, and psychological and social benefits.
  5. It is critical for the individual to develop skills to manage alcohol consumption.
  6. Some groups use alcohol almost exclusively in a positive fashion, and this style of drinking should be valued and emulated.
  7. Positive drinking involves regular moderate consumption, often including other people of both genders and all ages and usually entailing activities in addition to alcohol consumption, where the overall environment is pleasant—either relaxing or socially stimulating.
  8. Alcohol, like other healthful activities, both takes its form and produces the most benefit within an overall positive life structure and social environment, including group supports, other healthful habits, and a purposeful and engaged lifestyle.

If we fear communicating such messages, then we both lose an opportunity for a significantly beneficial life involvement and actually increase the danger of problematic drinking.

Okay, here is my confession: I take my nine-year-old grandson to bars, where he plays pool and darts with the other patrons. It’s a young crowd. Everyone enjoys themselves. I send my daughter-in-law pictures. We do leave before nightfall.

I am teaching my grandson to go to the beach, ride the bus, and talk and think. I want to pass along my gift for living, including alcohol. 

Comments from people with opposite viewpoints:

JB: “The fully differentiated individual has no use for intoxicants.”

Camille Schreiner: “People do not need to drink. This is the most absurd article I have ever read.”

Alcoholism runs in my family, and it is a real, legitimate psychiatric condition. My dad has been sober for almost 40 years, and I am so grateful for that. He cannot drink in moderation, so he doesn’t at all, and I am so grateful for that. He attends weekly AA meetings, and serves as a mentor for new people who are looking to make a positive, difficult change.

Kevin: “I believe sobriety is how humans were naturally supposed to live.”

I’m a recovering drunk and yes we are buzz kills that never get invited to parties. We vilify alcohol because we have seen and heard enough to know without doubt the risks outweigh the rewards. No, you will not die from one drink, but we know how easily 1 turns to 2 and so on. You may spend a lifetime having positive experiences drinking, but it takes just 1 moment to regret all of them.

L. Finnigan: commenting on someone’s commenting favorably on my “skills to manage” drinking.

You think that makes sense? Certain people react differently to alcohol. Would you suggest the same “skills for moderation” to a person with an allergy to shell fish or dairy products? Your ignorance I can understand. Peele is a so-called “expert in drug & alcohol addiction” and he’s as clueless as you are.

Ryu: “I value my health enough to abstain from the stuff.”

I see nothing cool or attractive in someone who is smugly swirling wine around in a glass while speaking nor do I see it as a sign of sophistication to serve that stuff at any social function.

I see nothing normal about a family that can’t go without spending mega bucks on cases of beer or other drinks because they think this is the way “real” people live. I also see nothing normal about a family member that, after chugging a few beers or wine coolers, flies off the handle because their spouse or child interrupted their precious baseball game or decides to get behind the wheel while soused, drags their family along while claiming he is just fine…..then ends up in a hospital.

Stanton Peele: “borei p’ri hagafen.”

Baruch atah, Adonai
Eloheinu, Melech Haolam,
borei p’ri hagafen.

Praise to You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the universe,
Creator of the fruit of the vine.

Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.

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