Fred Woolman: Questions about alcohol use need serious contemplation

If you watched the State of the Union Address about three weeks ago, you saw Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg napping during the address. Later, on a talk show, she admitted she drank some wine right before the address, which made her "tipsy." Of course another term for tipsy is drunk, but saying "I was drunk" on live TV probably would have created unflattering results.

Still, they mean the same thing don't they?

The host joked and kidded her about it. After all, isn't it funny that an 82-year-old woman predictably falls asleep after drinking alcohol? I guess it would be except she is a Supreme Court justice, a judge on the highest and most powerful court in the land. It seems if one chooses to hold such a high-profile position, they should deport themselves accordingly. The reality is, she probably had a lot of company in the audience that night. I'm sure there was a lot of drinking at gatherings before the State of the Union Address.

So, my question: Why is that OK? If it is OK, it just doesn't feel right.

And in general, why is it OK for the people in our society, in any position of life, to impair themselves at their own free will whenever they want? By "OK," I mean anyone can do it anywhere or anytime, and it seems to be generally accepted as a national pastime or even a right.


We do it at parties, cookouts, celebrations, fundraisers and any other excuse that suits us. It's just what we do. It's almost expected. The advertising media promotes it as a recreational activity and gets rewarded for it. A recent example was the Budweiser Clydesdale ad that won best Super Bowl commercial.

Am I making a mountain out of a molehill? Most of us drink, therefore, it must be OK, right? But remember we felt that way about smoking cigarettes not too long ago. I think we know it is a big deal, but we can't absolutely conclude that.

Let's remind ourselves what alcohol is and how it can affect people's lives. Within minutes, it travels from the stomach to the brain, where it quickly produces its effects, which is to slow the action of nerve cells. So it's not much different than putting drugs directly into your bloodstream via an injection. It is a drug and does nothing healthy for the human body. It is not food; it provides no nutrients, only empty calories. It is sugar based and thus pumps a lot of sugar into our bloodstream that no one needs. It is classified as a depressant, meaning it slows vital functions, resulting in slurred speech, unsteady movement, altered perceptions and inability to react quickly.

Mentally, it reduces a person's ability to think rationally and distorts judgment. Physically, it contributes to obesity, high blood pressure, stroke, heart and liver disease, some cancers and even impotence. Socially, it can destroy relationships, families, careers and lives.

It really has no redeeming purpose or justification for being put into our bodies. Stating it another way, drinking alcohol is like playing Russian Roulette. No one really knows how it will affect them. So why do we risk it? And why do we expose our bodies to the potential damage that alcohol can cause?

People drink for many reasons, but the worst is "auto-pilot drinking," which means they do it out of habit. It's almost as bad as auto-pilot eating, but that is a subject for a future column.

An indisputable fact of drinking is that it does not benefit anyone. It's not cool, it doesn't make you more funny or fun to be around, and basically, it doesn't improve anything about you. All it does is impair you. In addition, if people were honest, I doubt if they even like the taste of it.

There are a lot of bars in Rochester, which means every Friday and Saturday night, and probably week days, hundreds of people are driving their cars around "buzzed." And, remember, buzzed is drunk.


Should this be a big concern of Rochester city leaders or Destination Medical Center planners? I think so, because it seems construction of bars is promoting the consumption of alcohol.

Of course, there are many other serious considerations. Drinking-and-driving deaths continue at unacceptable levels as well as unhealthy behavior role modeling drinking provides for youth.

Drinking in Rochester is an elephant in the room that we all walk around. We all must heighten our awareness about the reality of the hazards of drinking alcohol and step up to our moral, civic and social responsibility for its use. My goal is to put it on the table to call it for what it is -— a bad habit.

So the initial question remains: Why is it OK?

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