Alessandro R. Demaio: Our relationship with the bottle is just bizarre

Addictive, harmful, toxic, celebrated. Cheers to that! Bizarre ... Photo / Getty Images
Addictive, harmful, toxic, celebrated. Cheers to that! Bizarre ... Photo / Getty Images

There are many things in the world that truly fascinate me. Concepts, products or behaviours which are often widely accepted but are actually bizarre - if we take a moment to reflect on them.

Things that would be hard to explain to an alien life-form, for example.

Diet soda is one. A strange idea. A product for which we expend enormous quantities of energy to develop and produce, vast sums of carbon released in the process, and all for the intended and advertised outcome of, well, zero!

Something that takes large inputs and is designed to give us nothing - in a world that is finite.

Totally bizarre.

Another concept which stumps me is alcohol. Have you ever stood back and thought about how we treat this drug - because let's be honest, that's what it is.

Now I am going to openly acknowledge that I enjoy a glass of wine, or bubbles, or a cool beer. But at the end of the day, this is an addictive, behaviour-influencing substance - linked to cancers, mental illness, physical injury and more.

And yet, when our day goes well, we have champagne ... When our friends visit, we have a beer ... When the day goes badly, we often have a glass of wine or something "harder". We use alcohol to relax, we use it to have the confidence to speak to the opposite sex. It is a social lubricant, a mark of accomplishment, power and celebration, a representation of coming-of-age and a sophisticated accompaniment to food.

One would be hard pressed to think of another addictive drug that we treat this way.

Imagine a friend came to you, told you he or she is using an addictive substance. That he or she uses this substance to relax some nights each week, uses it most nights, uses it to have the confidence to do things he or she would otherwise not do, and uses lots of it with friends for leisure - wouldn't alarm bells be ringing?

But if it's alcohol, everyone relaxes. Breathes a sigh of relief and shouts "cheers"!

Some say that with increasing evidence linking alcohol to chronic disease, it is an inevitability that alcohol (particularly hard alcohol) will go down the same track as tobacco in the coming 50 years and be seen in a similarly dangerous light.

Either way, I think it is healthy once in a while to take a step back from our glass and realise this isn't a harmless staple of living. This isn't bread or water. This is ethyl alcohol, or ethanol. We know it can be addictive, we know it's harmful to our health and we know it causes an enormous burden to our society.

I'm not arguing we all stop drinking. Just be conscious of it.

The alcohol industry may spend large sums to help us resist questioning our relationship with alcohol, but let's be honest - this relationship is truly bizarre.

Australian Alessandro R. Demaio is a Harvard Fellow & PhD Fellow in Global Health at the University of Copenhagen.

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