Chuck, as a health and fitness expert, how do you feel about alcohol consumption? – “A Toronto Teetotaler”

April is Alcohol Awareness Month, so I’d like to do a two-part series on the issue. This first part addresses those who can legally drink. Next week, I’ll address those who are underage.

Don’t worry. I’m not going to bore you with statistics of which you’re already aware. You know why America highlights an “Alcohol Awareness Month,” and it’s not because we’re drinking too little.

From temptations for adults to overly “tip the glass” to concerns for underage youths and upcoming proms – abstinence, moderation and sobriety from a health-and-fitness point of view are always timely topics.

The issues of alcohol and alcoholism hit close to home for me because I grew up with an alcoholic father. He was also addicted to cigarettes. Both booze and tobacco contributed to his early death, at 53 years of age in 1971.

Though I don’t drink, I am not a totally sold-out teetotaler. For example, I understand the few health benefits in a glass of red wine, with research attesting to its cardiovascular profits.

Still, every health-and-fitness activist and practitioner I know would warn against overconsumption of any alcoholic beverage. Research attesting to alcohol’s potential destructive nature in regard to vital organs far outweighs any prospective blessings.

Besides its significant negative bodily repercussions or threat to others (e.g., via drunken driving), what concerns me about alcohol is its power over our minds, or our chemical dependency on it to alter our mood or state of being.

I understand that millions enjoy the taste and ambiance of an evening glass of wine just as millions enjoy the morning ritual and aroma of their favorite cup of Java. What genuinely concerns me, however, is when we establish and enable a culture and lives that erroneously believe we need mood-altering substances (legal and not) to settle our nerves or elevate our happiness.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not legalistic against the pick-me-up in a morning cup of coffee, but I do believe a proper diet can provide all the energy we daily need. Similarly, I believe one’s mental and physical fitness (combined with the solace of spirituality) can usher enough peace in one’s life that one doesn’t need alcohol (or any other mind-altering substances) to obtain some state of bliss.

One of the challenges I give youths and adults – both addicts and those who are not – who feel a particular (or is it peculiar?) passion to defend their drink or drug of choice is this: Is it possible that life in itself can be good enough that we don’t need any mood-altering substances to steady us?

I believe it can be. I really do. I live that type of life and have plenty of friends who do, too.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that if you can drink anything without a concern to alter your mood or energy, you probably have the right approach in doing so. And a right approach might even save you some embarrassment in the long run. For it is true that the first thing in the human personality that dissolves in alcohol is dignity.

As Ernest Hemingway admonished, “Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.”

In other words, if you’re going to err, err toward abstinence. You won’t be sorry. Prove to others that no drink or substance should have mastery over us, and our emotions and that water can have as many (if not more) positive effects upon us as any of its competitors.

America was established on liberty, but that liberty is not a license for reckless living. We must not only live as such but also model that responsible living for our posterity. Even our Founding Fathers, some of my favorite heroes, understood that health and fitness principle.

As a way to inspire your own proper living, reflect upon the wisdom and moderation of Thomas Jefferson, who wrote to Dr. Vine Utley in 1819 (at age 76) about his own health habits: “The request of the history of my physical habits would have puzzled me not a little, had it not been for the model with which you accompanied it, of Doctor Rush’s answer to a similar inquiry. I live so much like other people that I might refer to ordinary life as the history of my own. I have lived temperately, eating little animal food, and that not as an ailment, so much as a condiment for the vegetables which constitute my principal diet. I double, however, the Doctor’s glass and a half of wine, and even treble it with a friend; but halve its effects by drinking the weak wines only. The ardent wines I cannot drink, nor do I use ardent spirits in any form. Malt liquors and cider are my table drinks, and my breakfast is of tea and coffee. I have been blest with organs of digestion which accept and concoct, without ever murmuring, whatever the palate chooses to consign to them, and I have not yet lost a tooth by age.”

For more information on Alcohol Awareness Month, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, P.O. Box 2345, Rockville, MD 20847. The phone number is 877-726-4727. The website is

In Part 2, I will directly address young people, mostly underage, regarding alcohol and alcoholism, so please be prepared to pass along next week’s article to someone for whom you care.

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