Now that the puritans have all but won their war to ‘de-normalise’ tobacco, they are increasing their attacks on booze.
The latest news is that drinking increases the risk of mouth cancer. Clearly lacking the ‘bottle’ to mount a moral campaign for restrictions and prohibitions, modern-day anti-alcohol crusaders increasingly look to ‘science’ to scare us into changing our gin alley ways. And the chance to associate pleasure with disease must be enough to crack the sour expressions of even the most pursed-lipped amongst them.
But contrary to the picture painted by the anti-alcohol lobbyists, there is much to praise about the ‘demon drink’. Its taste, for one. Most of us enjoy the drink we drink, though that may take a while to develop; requiring long hours in our early years, working our way along the bar to find something we actually like. In our teens, few of us really enjoy the taste of beer, wine or spirits, usually diluting it with a sweetener like lemonade or orange juice. But once the taste has developed, as for curry or sprouts, alcohol becomes a genuine pleasure; especially those first few pints on a Friday night, glass of wine with a meal, or single malt at the end of day. Alcohol is a thing to be both savoured and swilled down in great quantities.
Tied to our taste for alcohol is its social value. I enjoy a nice pint, but I enjoy it more in company. Most people are social drinkers, and alcohol aids their sociability. Alcohol can both relax you and stimulate conversation. One of the great pleasures in life is being in the pub with friends having a laugh and setting the world to rights, gradually getting pissed. It might lead to the odd row, or even fight. As it might give you the courage to argue or fight that you normally lack. Drinking can also cement friendships, lead to casual sex, or at least give you the nerve to try it on. And we often meet our partners over a drink. Sometimes we drink too much and regret it the next day. But all pleasure is worth some pain: which is why we never really mean ‘never again’.
Whatever alcohol’s negative effects on a small proportion of the population, most people enjoy drinking and have little problem with it. But this seems to be ignored by both our elected representatives and an increasingly vocal, self-appointed anti-alcohol lobby (such as the BMA and Alcohol Concern), which seem intent on making us as concerned as possible about our drinking habits. But, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, we take more out of alcohol than alcohol takes out of us.