Do we force people to drink who shouldn’t?
I’ve railed and ranted before at every attack on wine that’s hidden behind the excuse of “preventing alcoholism.” (See some of my stuff about the Marin Institute.) I usually think there’s a hidden agenda coming from a neo-prohibitionist lobby that wouldn’t mind outlawing alcohol all over again — a disaster last time we tried it, and it would be just as disastrous if we did it again, for the same reasons why the “war on drugs” has been a disaster.
But I digress. Yesterday, I came across this blog, written by a psychologist, Sarah Allen Benton, and entited The Great Wine Myth. After my first read-through, I thought, “There they go again, the anti-wine fanatics. Why do they get so upset that some of us like wine?” But then I read it a second time, and a third.
I’ll give Ms. Benton this: she’s got a point, although she’s also wide of the mark in some respects. I’ll get to her point in a minute, but first: Where I disagree with her is when she says there’s a problem with people who feel they’re being compelled to drink wine against their will, even though they don’t want to. For example, she writes, “I am hearing from those struggling with alcohol problems, that their friends are encouraging them to drink wine with them at their homes or at restaurants-ignoring the fact that their individual has a drinking problem. During dinner parties, glasses are filled and re-filled without guests even noticing or being able to keep track.”
Well, a couple things. First of all, I don’t see why these dinner party guests who don’t want to drink can’t just tell their host, “No thank you, I’d much prefer a nice cold glass of water,” or something like that. Nobody’s twisting anybody’s arm to drink at a party or in a restaurant. And not keeping track? If you know you can’t handle more than a glass, then you need help if you’re downing five. Of course, if the person who’s constantly refilling their guest’s glass knows that the guest has a drinking problem, then that person is a total idiot — and the guest might want to rethink the friendship. Friends don’t make friends who are alcoholics drink.
I also don’t quite get it when Benton writes about patients who complain that “every social function that they attend revolves around drinking, particularly wine and that they feel like they won’t fit in if they are not drinking.” Again, what ever happened to self-control? Isn’t it possible for these people to politely decline wine? I don’t know anybody who would resent or feel weird about a friend who didn’t feel like drinking alcohol at a social function. I have alcoholics in my family (more than one), and when we get together, the rest of us drink all we want to, the alcoholics don’t, and nobody blames anyone for anything. The lines are clearly drawn, and if there’s mutual respect and understanding, there’s no problem.
But Benton makes some good points. Her title, “The Great Wine Myth,” alludes to the fact that there probably is a tendency among some people to think that wine is somehow different from beer or hard liquor — that it’s cleaner, or healthier, or more refined than, say, a shot of cheap Scotch or malt liquor. Wine may be more refined in a cultural sense, but Benton’s point is that alcohol is alcohol, regardless of if “you are sipping on Chardonnay or chugging a 40-ounce beer in a paper bag.” That’s true. I myself drink more than most people would consider healthy. So do lots of people I know in the wine industry. I’m aware of the deleterious effects of alcohol, including calories. That’s why I hit the gym regularly, eat right and take good care of my body. And I would never, ever insist that a guest in my home drink wine, unless they were eager to do so.
So, bottom line: You wrote a generally fair essay, Ms. Benton. You made some good points. People should be incredibly sensitive to their guests’ needs and limitations. It’s called politeness, and it’s a human value as old as time.