We regularly see the headlines in the media about binge drinking and anti-social behaviour. It is always negative. News outlets never splash the good news about alcohol do they? Because there is good news about booze and has been for the thousands of years that humans have consumed it. Most people drink moderately and neither they nor society suffers ill effects. So for the majority of sensible drinkers I want to celebrate the gift of alcohol and all the benefits humans have gained from it.
Even before homo sapiens, hominids were enamoured of the effects of alcohol and throughout human history this has been the case. Apart from societies where booze is forbidden an alcoholic drink is a universal symbol of hospitality and friendship. Alcohol features in all our ceremonies, celebrations and rites of passage – from the beginning of life (wetting the baby’s head) until the end (the wake).
When we drink alcohol neurotransmitters initiate a reward cascade of compounds in our brains. Dopamine mellows us, and relieves anxiety and depression. Serotonin calms frayed nerves, and mood disorders. Alcohol also releases opioids – elating us and giving temporary relief from pain. It has pronounced effects on major neural pathways in the brain – particularly the emotional centres and those areas concerned with music making and language. Aristophanes knew that when he said ‘Quick bring me a beaker of wine so that I may wet my mind and say something clever‘. Humans like the effect alcohol has on their nervous system and it stimulates the ‘Yes’ function, as they don rose coloured spectacles making anything seem possible.
There is a reason why people say ‘Good Health’ when they toast you because there are health benefits associated with a moderate consumption of alcohol.
And if all this were not enough, a sensible consumption of alcohol has societal benefits too. It’s a superb social lubricant, helping us bond with others, it creates happiness, enjoyment, and community ties. But above all it’s fun. So let’s hear it for the good news about booze.