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Alcohol - Avoid at All Costs or Conscious Drinking?

addiction nutrition
Among the blossoms, a single jar of wine.
No one else here, I ladle it out myself.
Raising my cup, I toast the bright moon,
and facing my shadow makes friends three,         
though moon has never understood wine,
and shadow only trails along behind me.
Kindered a moment with moon and shadow,
I've found a joy that must infuse spring:
I sing, and moon rocks back and forth;
I dance, and shadow tumbles into pieces.         
Sober, we're together and happy. Drunk,
we scatter away into our own directions:
intimates forever, we'll wander carefree
and meet again in Star River distances.
Surely, if heaven didn't love wine,         
there would be no Wine Star in heaven,
and if earth didn't love wine, surely
there would be no Wine Spring on earth.
Heaven and earth have always loved wine,
so how could loving wine shame heaven?         
I hear clear wine called enlightenment,
and they say murky wine is like wisdom:
once you drink enlightenment and wisdom,
why go searching for gods and immortals?          
Three cups and I've plumbed the great Way,
a jarful and I've merged with occurrence
appearing of itself. Wine's view is lived:
you can't preach doctrine to the sober.
It's April in Ch'ang-an, these thousand
blossoms making a brocade of daylight.         
Who can bear spring's lonely sorrows, who
face it without wine? It's the only way.
Success or failure, life long or short:
our fate's given by Changemaker at birth. 
But a single cup evens out life and death,
our ten thousand concerns unfathomed,
and once I'm drunk, all heaven and earth
vanish, leaving me suddenly alone in bed,
forgetting that person I am even exists.
Of all our joys, this must be the deepest.         

“Drinking Alone Beneath the Moon” by Li Po (c. 743)

I’m not much of a poetry person, but this one speaks to me. 

It must America’s puritanical roots, but I think we have drinking all wrong.  We tend to look at it as all or nothing.  Either you’re a complete abstainer – for whatever reason – or you’re a drunk, closing down the bars every Saturday night. 

What about moderation?  Is there no middle ground?  Can we use alcohol medicinally? 

In herbal medicine, some people benefit from a certain herb, and others don’t.  Some herbs you need at some times of your life and other times you shouldn’t.  If you DO benefit from wine, how can you do it safely? And what’s its purpose anyhow? 

I asked some acupuncturists in an online forum:  “For a healthy adult with no addiction history, do you think are there health benefits to moderate drinking?”


Andrea J., L.Ac.:  “Absolutely! We know about the benefits of reasonable/moderate intake of red wine, and it’s also good in small doses for moving and *raising yang Qi (I always have a little hot sake when the weather starts to get cold like it is in KY right now). Additionally, I think about it from a psycho-emotional standpoint. WITHIN REASON having a small amount of wine or other chosen libation can *settle the shen. So as you said, within certain parameters I fully condone moderate drinking.”

John P., L.Ac.:  “Of course, there can be benefits. Christ drank wine long ago and I think that almost anything under the sun is OK in moderation. I can not drink due to stomach problems, but I think a healthy non addictive type of person can enjoy a beer or glass of wine without any problems…and may actually lower their stress level.”

Julie A., L.Ac.:  ” It’s rare…but I have recommended wine to a few patients and they have reported good results! It was so effective for a stubborn neck and shoulder tension due to stress and cold, damp weather. I would never recommend every day though. A really amazing professor of mine often told me I should drink more. It does help! Wine with girlfriends is the best medicine for my *liver Qi stagnation anyways.”

Derek O., L.Ac.:  “Nice perspective on this in the ‘Chinese Medicinal Wines and Elixirs’ book.”

Xuelan Q., L.Ac.:  “There is a Chinese saying: ε°ι…Œζ€‘ζƒ…οΌŒε€§ι…ŒδΌ€θΊ« literally means "small drink good for peace of mind, big drink hurts the body."  It’s all about the right amount, abstinence and balance. It’s the same way about everything. Such as green tea, it is good, but too much may hurt the stomach.  Li Shi Zhen talked about what wine is good for in Ben Cao Gang mu (Compendium of Materia Medica) hundreds of years ago. More modern references, pharmacopoeia of China and Japan. Everything can be poison if used incorrectly. But it doesn’t mean we have to avoid it. Just use it correctly.”


Ann L., L.Ac.:  ” It entirely depends on the person. My folks are in their 80s and have drunk 2 glasses of red wine every day their entire adult lives. They are quite healthy when compared to most folks in the US. I, however, have hardly any tolerance for it as I go through menopause and so it’s not something I partake in more than once every few weeks. Some of my patients have noticed that menopause makes them much more *”liver angry” and alcohol worsens those symptoms. I have had others who say they take vodka at night to help them sleep. Moderation is key, as with most things. In some instances it can really help *move the qi and blood.”

Sarah N., L.Ac.:  ” I think that a healthy amount of alcohol is more like a few drinks per week. Vs everyday. Even 1 drink a day can be too estrogenic/hot/stagnating/ disruptive to *optimal qi and blood for most people.”

Bethleigh F., L.Ac.:  “I think it depends on the person, pattern, situation etc. Just as in all things medicinal:) Some folks alcohol will act like a depressant and so for some folks with depression this might not be good. Also wine can trigger migraines due to sulphates as well as allergies, asthma etc. Organic wine better but still not for everyone.”

Caitlin G., L.Ac.:  “I think moderate alcohol use for LQS is fantastic. Also, diagnostic as I find most people who want to drink are dealing with a lot of repressed emotional stuff, hence they crave the *Liv qi moving effects. I think exercise is just as effective.”


Patrick C., L.Ac.:  “I’d rather not strain to get alcohol out of my system especially when you can’t undo the damage caused. I’m sure there are other ways to deal with stress.”

* Chinese medicine terms defined:

1.  “Yang qi” is the warming energy of your body.  You know the "yin/yang" symbol?  This is one of those parts.  The “yin” is your body fluid and coolant.  For optimal health, yin and yang are in balance.

2.  “Shen” is TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) for “spirit”, “mood” or “mental state.”

2.  “Liver” refers to your Liver meridian, not just the Liver organ.  The Liver meridian is connected to the nerves and blood vessels that run through your Liver and Gall Bladder.  The Liver in TCM stores reserves of Blood and is in charge of the circulation.  

3.  “Liver qi stagnation” refers to a TCM diagnosis.  Symptoms typically include irritability, PMS, or headaches.

4.  “Qi and blood stagnation” refers to systemic blockages of your blood circulation.  This could be due to injury, major stress or trauma, or toxins.

I think moderate use of alcohol in certain individuals is beneficial.  Others with certain medical conditions like addiction or mental disorders should avoid it. 

I would like to see our society view alcohol not as this vice of complete debauchery, but as a tool.  A little bit of wine loosens up your blood flow and it DOES reduce the effects of stress. 

Now, this comes with a big BUT — too much alcohol reverses that effect AND relying solely on alcohol to reduce stress is sure to backfire. 

Over the years, and many, many hangovers, I’ve come up with my own list of booze rules:

  1. Don’t drink every day.  I know they do in France, and I’ve tried it before, but it can become a habit, and I don’t want it to be a habit, I want it to be a conscious decision that I feel I have control over.  Plus, I think drinking every day packs on the pounds.
  2. Limit the amount.  This goes without saying, I think, but one to two drinks should do the trick.  Any more and you’re asking for trouble.  Also, the less often you drink, the lower your tolerance.  Try to make yourself a “cheap date!”  I have one friend who is self-proclaimed drunk after half a glass of wine (which I always admired because she’d stop drinking then), and other friends who can drink me under the table (which I also am in awe of because I’ve always had a low tolerance for alcohol even though I love it so.) 
  3. Hydrate and pace yourself!  One drink, then one glass of water.  One of my acupuncture teachers, Bob, said, “I hardly ever drink, but my buddies took me to Vegas, and I figured out how to drink all night:  I had only one drink per hour with one glass of water.  I went to bed at 7 am.”  This is a guy who normally goes to bed early and wakes up at 4 am to meditate for 2 hours.    
  4. Always eat with your wine.  My god, you would think I would have this down by my age.  If you want a monster hangover without drinking too much, just have some tequila on an empty stomach.  Ugh.  From what I've heard.
  5. Quality matters.  When I drink, I prefer just plain wine, but if I have a cocktail, I stay away from the mixers and sugar.  A favorite of mine is a “healthy margarita.”  The ingredients are:  tequila (2 oz.), lime juice (1-2 oz.), frozen watermelon chunks, blended, and a splash of sparkling water.  It’s refreshing, boozy, and not heavy at all.  

How about you?  Do you have any specific "rules" you follow for drinking?  What's your favorite cocktail?  

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