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We do not need an alternative to alcohol!



Well if this isn’t the strangest thing I’ve read in a long time, I don’t know what is. “Why the government should fund research into finding a replacement for alcohol,” it’s called.

It was written by Ryan Cooper, a national correspondent at, which is by no means a wacko rightwing pub. Ryan’s basic premise is that alcohol—the “ur-drug: the oldest, most common, and most widely abused drug in the world,” can cause “brain damage; severe memory loss; cardiovascular disease and strokes; cirrhosis of the liver; cancer of the mouth, throat, larynx, esophagus, liver…” Well, Ryan’s list goes on and on, but you get the idea. His solution, as the headline implies: Have the gummint look into funding studies into “alcohol replacement,” to come up with something that’s “better than booze.”

Is this the latest installment from the neoprohibitionist crowd? They never go away, do they? Look, anything and everything is potentially dangerous: automobiles, bicycling, eating certain foods, taking certain medications, flying in an airplane, joining the military, playing, making love, breathing. All we can do, as individuals and as a society, is to try and understand the risks involved, and adjust accordingly. In the case of alcohol, the solution is not to do away with it entirely, it’s to teach people the benefits (and pleasures) of moderate consumption—and to not drink and drive!!! (I can’t emphasize that enough.)

I actually don’t think Ryan is some kind of wild-eye prohibitionist, like the Marin Institute, which earned itself such a bad name that it had to reinvent itself as Alcohol Justice.

Still, in writing these inflammatory articles, Ryan links himself to the fire-eaters. He’s also not particularly consistent in his claims: A couple years ago, he wrote a piece for Washington Monthly in which he condemned hyperbolic diatribes against drugs, including alcohol: “[W]e should avoid alarmist, simplistic slogans” such as calling them “poisons,” he warned, because calling various drugs ‘poisons’ as if this counts for something is foolish. By this standard basically everything, including water, is a poison…”.

And yet, in The Week article, Ryan states: the most popular recreational drugs, particularly alcohol, are atrocious.” It is “very often terrible.” In fact, he adds, even heroin is “not as bad” as alcohol.

Those sound like alarmist simplistic slogans to me!

I’m glad that Ryan emphasized that he is “certainly not in favor of reinstating full-scale prohibition.” But notice that hedge: “full-scale.” Whatever does that mean? If he was really against restating prohibition, he wouldn’t use weasel words like that, he’d just come out and say “Let’s not even think of reinstating prohibition in any way, shape or form. We tried it once, and it was an abject failure and a national embarrassment.”

We already have some pretty stringent laws against alcohol consumption: age limits, shipping restrictions and so on. Alcohol is one of the most heavily-regulated consumer products in the U.S., which means that we continue to have a residue of prohibition, even though historic Prohibition was formally repealed in 1933.

I understand the concern Ryan has about all the problems associated with the inappropriate use of alcoholic beverages. But the answers are a lot more complicated than naively calling for the government to fund alternatives to it. Is that really something we want our precious tax dollars to go for? Instead, let’s be smart about this. Wine, beer and spirits are miraculous gifts to us from benign Nature. We don’t need to do away with them; we need to be smarter about using them, and we need to teach our children to be wise, not foolish, about alcohol and everything else.

  1. The Star Trek crews had synthehol, a synthetic alcohol that didn’t get you drunk or cause a hangover, maybe that is the future.

    Where would that fit with “natural wine” I wonder. Remove all the alcohol and replace it with something else. Might not go over well.

    I think we are just fine the way we are, yes there are health and addiction issues but there always will be. Some people want or need to overdose be it with drink or drugs. Even with substitutes you will just create a black market for the real thing.

  2. Steve, that article is by no means neoprohibitionist, inflammatory, strange or simplistic. Despite its benefits and pleasures, alcohol use disorders extract a heavy toll, nationally and worldwide. The tab for the carnage falls on all of us, and mostly on the US government, which should and does have an interest in finding better ways to address the fallout, whether on the roads, at battered women shelters, in the ICU or in jails, among other places where we all pay the price of alcohol-related crimes and suffering. A couple of days at SF General Hospital or any of the other Bay Area acute-care facilities might be eye-opening. It’s bad out there, and everywhere.

    Government-funding science is not a bad thing, Steve, even when it involves alcohol, and particularly when the study subject causes so much pain and suffering, regardless of people like us, if I may presume, who enjoy a wonderful glass of wine, don’t drive while buzzed and don’t destroy or threaten other people’s love, security and lives.

    Just because Cooper’s article provocatively suggested that an alternative to alcohol be explored doesn’t mean that prohibition is around the corner. Nor does he even imply that we should ‘do away with’ alcohol. Nor does the fact that making love and bicycling could be viewed as ‘potentially dangerous’ mitigate the reality of the price we all pay every day for substance abuse. ‘True, true, unrelated,’ as we say in medicine.

    Think of what a world we’d have without substance abuse-related crimes of all kinds. Think of how we could starve the cartels and terrorists of funding if Americans would only abandon their love and need for illicit drugs. Sure, it would be nice if we could teach better and if people could only be more responsible but in truth, it’s not working too well. Drunk culture is woo-hooing its way towards greater heights (and lows). We need to find better ways to fix these problems, and that begins with funding bright scientists and supporting sound ideas that bring benefit and value.

    I hope you’ll reconsider your reaction to what I and perhaps others consider a very benign and well-meaning opinion piece. I enjoy your blog, even when you get testy, though I found your interpretation to be uncharacteristically inflammatory, strange and simplistic.

  3. Dear Till, it may be because I’m a student of history, and Prohibition actually happened! Despite how unlikely it is that it could happen again, it could–these things play out in cycles. I’m also old enough to have been around for multiple resurfacings of neoprohibitionism over the decades. Like Dracula, these people return from time to time, rising from whatever dark place they retire to. As I pointed out in my post, I don’t think Cooper is a fire-eater. But he represents a slippery slope than we have to respond to whenever it shows up. IMHO.

  4. Peter Bourget: “Where would that fit with “natural wine” I wonder. Remove all the alcohol and replace it with something else. Might not go over well.”

    Certainly Robert Picard (Jean-Luc’s brother, who runs the family vineyard in France) had nothing but disdain for synthohol, and Chateau Picard continued to produce the “real thing.”

    And in his appearance on ST:TNG, Scotty had little use for synthohol either, demanding real whisky.

  5. With all the wasted money that has gone on as it concerns government research, I don’t get why anyone would advocate for the government to fund any sort of research. It seems like a pretty silly idea to me.

  6. Bill Haydon says:


    You are so right. The damn gubmint has never produced anything of value from funding research other than maybe the Manhattan Project, the polio vaccine, the space program, the semi-conductor, the internet, the jet engine, the cell phone, 90% of the primary research findings in medicine, physics and chemistry and a thousand more with which I could fill this post.

    Thank you again for starting my week with a big steaming cup of stupid. It’s nice to know that I’ve already been confronted with the most imbecilic thing that I will read or hear all week and needn’t worry about being blindsided when I least expect it.

  7. Bill Haydon: making friends and influencing people….yeesh.

  8. Bob Henry says:

    Stephen and Bill,

    Excerpts from this weekend’s Wall Street Journal interview with INSERT

    “Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Latest Science Projects”


    Being a public face of science isn’t always easy. … he has been the director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City since 1996 … He is perhaps the country’s best known popularizer of astrophysics and space exploration. … He also wishes that scientific research got more money from the government. Last year, 3.7% of the total federal budget went toward research and development in such areas as energy, defense and health and human services. That’s down from 6.5% in 1974, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science.”


    How do you know which scientific theories to believe?

    “If someone wants to sell you something that has suspicious claims related to it and [they] say, ‘Here’s the crystal. Rub it and you will be healed,’ the question is, what is your reaction to that? If you say, ‘Oh that’s bunk,’ and keep walking, well, why did you say that? I mean, IT IS AS INTELLECTUALLY LAZY TO ASSERT THAT SOMETHING IS BUNK AS IT IS TO NOT QUESTION WHAT THE PERSON TELLS YOU ABOUT IT. THEY BOTH REQUIRE NO THOUGHT. Full acceptance and full rejection. WHAT’S HARDER IS THE INQUIRY and that is the wiring of the scientific brain. Where did these crystals come from? What are they made of and how much do they cost? If you ask the right series of questions and the claim is a house of cards, your questions systematically dismantle it. If it’s legitimate, you start acquiring information that can give you confidence if it works.”

  9. Bill Haydon says:

    Bob, I’m guessing that Stephen is probably no fan of Mark deGrasse Tyson. I’d venture a guess that he’s quite comfortable with the attacks that have been thrown his way in light of the Cosmos remake.

    Steven Mirassou, You may like neither me personally nor my opinions of California wine, and that’s fine. If that dislike leads you to automatically jump onto the side of Stephen and his vapid soapbox opinions, I feel sorry for you. You should be able to separate the two, or perhaps you are truly in agreement.

  10. Bill Haydon says:

    And for those sympathetic to Stephen, remember that in his perfect world all that viticulture research at UC Davis would end. All that Cal Ag work in researching pest prevention (glassy winged sharpshooter anyone?) would end.

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