Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}


Let 18-Year-Olds Drink

In America, alleged land of freedom, a 19-year-old soldier just back from Afghanistan can’t sidle up to a bar and legally order a beer.

In supposedly regulation-crazed Europe, meanwhile, an 18-year-old can order a martini. In the beer-drinking cultures of Belgium and Germany, a 16-year-old can ask for beer or wine.
Do you detect a flaw in this story?

Prohibition has been gone for over 80 years. Most agree that it was worse than the disease it was meant to eradicate — the scourge of drunkenness. Nowadays, backers of drug legalization rightly hold up Prohibition as their model for failed policy.

Yet we see few arguments for lowering the national drinking age from the current 21 to 18, where it was until 1984. On the contrary, the public is still being pummeled by “expert” studies linking virtually any alcohol consumption to a variety of maladies, from cancer to road fatalities.

Britain has just issued the U.K. chief medical officer’s new guidelines for alcohol consumption. They’re just short of nuts. They make no distinction between the ability of men and women to process alcohol. Wiser guidelines note that female bodies can’t take as much.

The doctors set a weekly limit for drinking at a strangely low six pints of beer or four large glasses of wine. A 30-year-old male weightlifter or a 74-year old female “wisp of a thing,” same guideline.

The report goes on. Any amount of alcohol consumed on a regular basis raises the risk of mouth, throat and breast cancers. An Associated Press story on the guidelines authoritatively announces, “Alcohol is a known carcinogen.” How is that?

The Harvard School of Public Health has noted a link between alcohol consumption and breast cancer, but with an asterisk. “Getting extra folate (a B vitamin) may cancel out this alcohol-related increase,” according to its report titled “Alcohol: Balancing Risks and Benefits.”

As for the benefits, Harvard cites numerous studies showing moderate drinking seems to lower the risk of cardiovascular death. The British report made the most grudging nod in that direction. It said that red wine might be good for heart only if you are a woman over age 55 and drink no more than two glass a week.

Would the good doctors please explain why moderate drinkers live longer than those who don’t drink at all?

There’s this urge to simply lay blame for all kinds of societal ills possibly related to alcohol on alcohol only. True, alcoholism is a curse for those afflicted and their loved-ones. What makes it a curse is the addiction part. Some people simply shouldn’t drink.

Drunken driving is a menace, but the problem is drinking and driving, not the drinking itself. The bar fly who pours himself into a taxi at the end of the evening is no danger on the road — far less so than the teetotaler fiddling with the car’s infotainment system.

Binge drinking is both unhealthy and unsightly. It reflects mostly immaturity and a lack of education on civilized drinking. Some of it, ironically, stems from drinking bans on college campuses. Former Kenyon College President S. Georgia Nugent has made this argument. She’s written that students heading off to a party knowing no alcohol will be served engage in “pre-gaming,” that is, consuming huge quantities in advance.

Britain has never taken this nanny talk seriously enough to raise its legal drinking age from the current 18. By the way, the drinking age in Canada is 19 and in almost all of Latin America, 18.

America stands pretty much alone in treating people old enough to marry, vote and fight in wars like children. Time to let 18-year-olds drink and manage themselves.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at

Photo: Why should 18-year-olds have to wait three years to legally purchase and consume wine, when they can legally fight in a war? (E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

You’re Drinking Too Much. How To Cut Back

By Alison Bowen, Chicago Tribune (TNS)

Maybe your 2015 ended with a bang of booze. If you’re nursing a holiday hangover, perhaps it’s time for a change.

Whether your family has an addiction history that’s prompting a rethinking, or you are simply questioning whether a cocktail should accompany every night’s dinner as an appetizer, it never hurts to re-evaluate health choices.

We talked to Dr. Indra Cidambi, psychiatrist and medical director for the Center for Network Therapy in New Jersey, which helps guide patients through detox.

One clue it might be time for a change? If you find yourself explaining that your alcohol intake is a reasonable amount, whether to yourself or others.

“When we don’t want to do something, as human beings, we justify,” she said.

This interview has been condensed.

Q: So, New Year’s resolution season. Is January a good time to cut back?

A: It’s not a good idea to do something because of the season, because that’s not why you should do it. You want to really look at the whole bigger picture. Do I really want to do it? And if so, you need to jot down at least three reasons.

Q: How do you decide if it’s time to drink less?

A: If I feel that my drinking has been impacting my day-to-day life, other people are pointing out to me, “You’re drinking too much.” That means the functioning of that individual is being jeopardized. The question is, should I be drinking, should I be cutting down, or should I quit drinking?

Drinking alcohol in moderation or not drinking at all would be the question.

Q: What is drinking in moderation?

A: The guideline is, one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than 65 years of age. If it is a man (65 or younger), up to two drinks a day.

Having said that, that kind of moderate alcohol use is really unheard of.

Q: What is considered more than drinking in moderation?

A: More than three drinks a day, or more than 7 drinks a week, for women and men over 65. Four drinks a day or more than 14 drinks a week for (younger) men.

Q: What are the pros and cons of going cold turkey?

A: (For addicts) cold turkey is very dangerous. You really want to cut down mindfully, depending on about how much and how long the person has been drinking. Go to the primary care doctor. Be honest about how many drinks a day you’ve been drinking.

For regular drinkers, if somebody is drinking three to four drinks a day, they cut the drinking to two drinks a day, one drink a day. Bring it down. Say, “Today, maybe I will not drink. Let me try to kind of quit my evening drink as soon as I walk into the house.” Instead of going three times a week to parties, cutting down and going once.

Q: Is it helpful to cut out one thing, like beer or liquor?

A: One drink is one drink. People will say, “I no longer want to drink hard liquor, I’ll only do red wine or white wine.” It’s really the justification again.

©2016 Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: The guideline for moderate alcohol use is one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than 65, or two drinks a day for younger men. And, says Dr. Indra Cidambi, “one drink is one drink,” whether liquor, beer or wine. (Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune/TNS)


What Makes A Heavy Drinker?

There’s been a significant rise in “heavy drinking” among Americans, according to a new study out of the University of Washington.

But what do these researchers mean by “heavy drinking”? wine lovers must ask. For a woman, heavy drinking is defined as more than one glass of wine a day. For men, it’s more than two. Other definitions of heavy drinking use similar measures. But hmm.

I’m often a heavy drinker by these lights, but not by my lights. Many days, I’ll have two glasses of wine. Occasionally, I’ll have three. I don’t think that’s a big deal, and I don’t see myself in any kind of denial.

Is the Frenchwoman who takes a glass of rosé with lunch and a cabernet at dinner a “heavy drinker”? And if she should add an aperitif before dinner and a dash of cognac when the meal ends two hours later — that is, consume four alcoholic beverages in the course of 24 hours — does that make her a “binge drinker,” as many would define her?

Even doctors pointing to the cardiac benefits of moderate consumption urge people to not start drinking for health reasons. Well, why not, unless the person is addicted to alcohol?

Other healthy adults should be able to split a bottle of wine with a friend without being told they are headed to the gutter. Somewhere in our society’s gut lives the notion of alcohol as inherently evil.

When experts talk about the one-drink-a-day limit for a woman, they ignore vast differences in the sizes, ages and health conditions of the sisterhood’s members.

“I can’t drink anything,” my 90-year-old aunt Shirley told me during a recent dinner out, “but would you like another glass of white?”

Aunt Shirley has only 102 pounds on her but a ton of wisdom.

Even getting tipsy now and then should be the drinker’s own business, assuming that he or she doesn’t then drive. On that subject, campaigns against drunken driving have succeeded in sharply reducing alcohol-fueled fatalities on the road. Unfortunately, the modern-day temperance movement has gotten into its head that the way to push these numbers still lower is to make alcoholic beverages more expensive through higher taxes.

In truth, the dangerous drivers are typically alcoholics with repeated arrests and blood alcohol levels that are double the legal maximum or more. They are not real sensitive to the price of the substance.

Promoting higher prices as a response to campus binge drinking is also a non-solution. The problem of students’ downing rotgut until they pass out is not just of too much alcohol but of too little civilization.

Giancarlo Gariglio, editor-in-chief of Slow Wine magazine, touched on this in his criticisms of a European Union plan to discourage binge drinking with minimum prices and regulated alcoholic percentages. His big complaint was it lumped artisanal wines with industrial, pre-mixed alcohol beverages.

“Without culture,” he wrote, “we drink poorly and we don’t even enjoy ourselves, because we gulp down rubbish.”

Taxes on alcohol are, of course, regressive. The Beer Institute, an industry trade group, reports that beer drinkers pay $5.6 billion a year in hidden excise taxes alone — hidden because they are levied at the brewery.

Low- and middle-income Americans are beer’s chief consumers. The institute estimates that households earning less than $50,000 per year pay half of beer taxes.

The battle is on to define moderate drinking. If that means dishing out the same guidelines to a skinny Nancy Reagan at 93 and a large Melissa McCarthy at 44, then they’re not going to say much.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at 

Photo: Robert S. Donovan via Flickr

Do You Vote What You Drink?

Did you know that Democrats drink more than Republicans? Or that they are likelier to choose clear liquors, whereas Republicans tend toward the darker ones? That voters who skew most Republican favor Jim Beam? That those who skew most Democratic go for Seagram’s gin?

I didn’t. And frankly, I’d take such findings with a long-lost shaker of salt. You wonder how honest anyone would be with a stranger asking about drinking and politics in the same conversation. Also, the survey obviously leaves out voters who abstain from alcohol.

No matter. If you’re feeling tongue-tied among people you barely know at a holiday party, here’s a subject that can serve as a safe icebreaker. It’s amusing, spicy and political but not bitterly partisan.

The report is by National Media Research, Planning and Placement — a Republican consulting firm. Its conclusions are based on a survey of over 50,000 consumers. More details in a minute.

First, let’s put in a kind word for the cocktail party as a traditional no-fly zone for strife, including the partisan kind. In the age of Ronald Reagan, Republican and Democratic lawmakers would end their day socializing over drinks, often creating social bonds that facilitated cooperation later. Nowadays, each party retreats to its own bunker. For many on the hard right, especially, a Republican seen smiling within 10 feet of a Democrat might be accused of consorting with the enemy.

The cocktail party, born in the 1920s, was generally above politics — except perhaps the politics of Prohibition. It was highly unlikely — though not impossible — that those backing the ban on the sale and production of alcoholic beverages would be in attendance.

The policy disaster that was Prohibition (1920 to 1933) did advance the cause of gender equality. The cocktail party became the place where women could drink and smoke with men — something not previously done in polite society.

Under Prohibition, drinking was still permitted in one’s home — and that is where much of it moved. Women felt still freer to partake behind those protected walls.

Out of this swirl emerged a new language of dress for women, as described in “Cocktail Culture: Ritual and Invention in American Fashion, 1920-1980.” For women, the shorter cocktail dress became acceptable after-dark attire, with makeup and perfume adding to the intoxicating mix. Hollywood latched on to the trend, focusing on silk stockings and lacy lingerie.

Pollsters didn’t call these sophisticated ladies and gentlemen and inquire into their political leanings. First off, polling back then was rather primitive, as well as less pervasive and invasive. But more to the point, with Prohibition in full force, telling a pollster what you drank, depending on where, could be an admission of criminal activity.

We are clearly in a post-dress-up era. So time to end the chitchat on how people array themselves for social drinking and drill down to what they drink and what they think, politicswise.

Interestingly, voters with the highest turnout on both the Republican and Democratic sides tend to be wine drinkers. There may be nothing to the following observation, but high-turnout Democrats tend to patronize Washington state vineyards Columbia Crest and Chateau Ste. Michelle, whereas high-turnout Republicans go for California wines Kendall-Jackson and Robert Mondavi.

Among voters with the lowest turnout, Democrats choose Don Julio tequila, and Republicans prefer Jagermeister, syrupy and brown. National Media says this is not surprising. Wish it would elaborate.

Oddly, the beverage for high-turnout voters who skew the most Democratic is something called Smoking Loon. What the heck is Smoking Loon? Oh, it’s a winery. As already noted, the author of the report is Republican.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at

Photo: Greg Turner via Flickr