Alcohol: The Sweet Elixir

by Sandra Radja

Woman drinking Absinthe - Picasso

Woman drinking Absinthe - Picasso

This painting really depicts some ideas I want to share about alcohol.  I know what you're thinking.....what a kill joy right?  Is there anything worse than reading an article on alcohol listing the myriad of ways it's bad for you? I agree and I'm sure I don't need to give you the list...well, not until I show you a new way to look at it and as usual Ayurveda likes to dig out the root cause of disease.

One of our scriptures in Ayurveda, Caraka Samhita, looks at alcohol in a neutral way -   Alcohol. by nature, is like food.  When used inappropriately it begets disease, when used appropriately it is like nectar.  

Ayurveda sees everything in nature as medicine, however the wisdom comes with knowing what and when it's appropriate.  My teacher, Dr Lad, teaches us that there are six stages of disease.  In the first two stages our cravings are justified because they are trying to balance the body.  Thereafter the body will crave that which pushes it further out of balance.  The solution - Bring the body back to balance so that you learn to trust your body's intelligence. Now we are starting to look at the root cause of disease.  Treatments for such addictions, which span many years and generations take time and love and usually a strong desire to want to change.  Anything is possible if the desire is strong and the support is there.   Once the decision making faculties are in balance, you tend to make healthy lifestyle choices - the will becomes stronger than the craving.

So we mentioned that Alcohol was like food.  If we break food into the categories of six tastes, it falls into the sweet taste.  In a positive way, the sweet taste builds tissue, improves lubrication, nourishes skin and hair, provides a sense of satisfaction and reduces anxiety and intensity.  Alcohol is the ultimate sweetness.  In small amounts it is medicine and used inappropriately it is poison. Here comes the tough part when replacing that ultimate sweetener.  A lot of white sugar gives that same sugar rush, coffee and spicy food help with the pungency of alcohol to produce that same feeling of intensity and heavily salted food is used to help with grounding the jittery feeling of an over-abused nervous system.  The way we metabolize refined sugars leads to fatty livers, which leads to insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome, a cause for heart disease, obesity and diabetes according to a NY Times article on the toxicity of refined sugar.

Breaking down the cravings for certain tastes and replacing them with whole foods and herbs to satisfy the personality formed from excessive alcohol is the approach Ayurveda would take to the problem.  Robert Svoboda, in his book "Prakriti" writes " To partially substitute [the alcoholic's need for sweet], flood all the senses with Sweet.  Let the patient's nose smell Sweet fragrances, like rose, and let his skin feel "sweet" things, like oil.  "Sweet" words should fall into the patients ear, and "Sweet" surroundings, like life in the country, should meet his eye. Intense Sweet of all sorts must be provided until the brain is willing to scale down its Sweet intake."  

I like this painting because in it I see her in the midst of making a decision.  For the moment she has a choice.  Her body language is giving the real secret as to her desire, which is to be held and feel the sweetness of feeling loved.   Alcohol, by its nature, is not good or bad, but mixed in with the state of balance of our physiology can be the difference between an occasional jolly evening to an infliction which can destroy our bodies and relationships.

OK here's the list.:-

  • Increase in Breast cancer for women due to a compromised liver's ability to process the excess estrogen floating around the body.

  • Impaired judgement leading to unsatisfactory life situations.

  • Reduces the body's ability to handle stress since it requires the "feel-good" mechanism of alcohol to jump start the endocrine system.

  • Increases heat in the body from the fermentation, which can provoke acid reflux, GERD, gingivitis, as well as inflammation of the mind in anger and violence.

  • Deranged nervous system leading to tremors and severe mood swings.

References -

"Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life" Dr Claudia Welch, Pg 138

"Prakriti" Dr Robert E Svoboda, pg 6