Slingerland argues that drinking has, over many thousands of years, been adaptive, in large part because it is such an effective social lubricant, and helps people bond with one another. But he also cautions that, when alcohol is consumed alone, its benefits disappear. These ideas tracked with what I’d experienced over the course of the pandemic: I’d consumed wine more often than before, but without friends, I’d found it far less fun. As I reported further on the benefits of social drinking, I learned that light-to-moderate drinkers are psychologically healthier than nondrinkers—not because alcohol is itself good for you, but because drinkers have more friends, and friends make us happy. Many of us, I realized, hadn’t mastered this light-to-moderate drinking. Instead, we tended to take an all-or-nothing approach, either overindulging or renouncing alcohol altogether.
I have come to believe that swinging from one extreme to the other—binge, abstain, binge, abstain—is a particularly American pattern, one deeply rooted in our history. Prohibition is an especially dramatic example of this tendency. Treatment for alcohol-use disorder, which is mostly limited to the 12-step-based all-or-nothing model of total abstinence, is another. Recent fads such as “Dry January” follow in a similar spirit.
As we emerge from a year of relative isolation, those of us who have been drinking too much might want to take a hard look at our habits. But we should also be wary of overly broad renunciations. If moderate drinking in the company of others can help us meet people, make new friends, and bond further with existing ones, especially after a time of intense loneliness, now seems like the worst possible moment to discard it.
— Kate Julian
America Has a Drinking Problem
A little alcohol can boost creativity and strengthen social ties. But there’s nothing moderate, or convivial, about the way many Americans drink today.
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