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Another Voice: Rules on alcohol consumption protect drinkers

By Tom LeBeau

In her June 21 op-ed column, Froma Harrop chafed at definitions of heavy and binge drinking, citing a University of Washington study. The definitions (from the Centers for Disease Control) define heavy drinking as “exceeding an average of one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men,” and binge drinking as “consuming four drinks or more for women and five drinks or more for men on a single occasion …”

Harrop asked, “Is the Frenchwoman who takes a glass of rose with lunch and a cabernet at dinner a heavy drinker?” As a substance abuse educator, my response is that if the woman’s average consumption is more than one drink per day, it’s heavy drinking. She overlooked the word “average.” It doesn’t mean a woman can’t ever enjoy two glasses of wine (as Harrop states she does on many days, occasionally three). It just shouldn’t become habitual.

Here’s the problem: the alcohol beverage industry markets alcohol abundantly in our society while never defining what it means when it says, “Drink responsibly.”

The CDC definitions form the basis of the “One, Two, Three” rule taught to DWI offenders in drinking driver education programs. Assuming one is not alcoholic (and therefore no alcohol use is the right choice) the rule says, “one drink per hour, no more than two drinks per day, or occasionally, no more than three drinks on any one day (never three on consecutive days), with total alcohol consumption not to exceed 14 drinks per week.” Follow this rule and you won’t get a DWI and your tolerance to alcohol won’t increase unnoticed – what researchers have proven conclusively increases your risk for legal, health and social problems because it leads to increased drinking.

I disagree with Harrop’s statement, “Somewhere in our society’s gut lives the notion of alcohol as inherently evil.” We tried prohibition; it didn’t work. Though some folks thought alcohol was evil, the public overwhelmingly did not. I’m a Methodist minister and a substance abuse educator. I drink wine and beer. Even though my religious tradition has a strong history in the temperance movement, abstinence from alcohol is not part of our earlier roots.

John Wesley, Methodism’s founder, actually encouraged his itinerant horseback riding preachers to drink a moderate amount of lager weekly for their health.

I suspect that Harrop and many are having a tough time dealing with guidelines that seem draconian.

But the guidelines are based on solid research and afford a definite, reasonable and responsible way to enjoy alcoholic beverages.

I had a hard time adjusting to them at first, but they make sense to me now.

The Rev. Tom LeBeau, M.Div., R.N., is a United Methodist pastor and Crossroads Drinking Driver Program instructor.