I’ve seen this debate occur elsewhere online, but it doesn’t seem to come up very much. Which surprised me. Why doesn’t this subject come up more often?
Let me start by saying this is not a post telling everyone that alcohol is an evil concoction and to stay away from it at all costs. As always, the choice is up to each individual, and I would be a hypocrite if I said to never drink a drop of alcohol. I enjoy wine in moderation myself, though I despise other types of alcohol for the most part.
This argument will also bring us back to the Wiccan Rede: “An it harm none, do what thou wilt.” Part of the argument concerning the Rede was what does harm mean, and to whom does the Rede apply? Does it apply to the caster not harming him or herself, or to everyone else? [See the post “The Variability of Pagan Ethics” for more info, 11/16/09]
Alcohol, when enough is imbibed, inhibits a person’s abilities to think clearly, control their own body, and make a conscious, controlled choice. It can also cause damage to the body itself. Yes, this may take years to happen, but liver damage, heart damage, kidney damage, and digestive system damage are more likely to happen, among other effects. If a person is a chronic, heavy drinker, they could even become malnourished: alcohol creates euphoria, which depresses the appetite.
A glass or two likely is not enough to cause a great deal of harm, dependent, of course, on each individual’s tolerance for alcohol. However, drinking alcohol in excess of a glass or two per day would be cause for concern. And yes, getting drunk every weekend or multiple times per weekend (like many college students and recent post-grads) is included.
So what does this have to do with the Rede? It depends on what you include in the statement “harm none.” Are you included in that, and if so, does alcohol harm you? For me, I tend to include myself in that statement. I have no interest in harming myself. I prefer to help myself in any way I can, and that includes a healthy body. I consider being drunk a destructive state that I have no interest in taking part in. I limit my consumption of alcohol specifically so that I won’t even get tipsy. Personally, I enjoy knowing that I can control my own body, that I can walk away when I choose or say what I choose to say. And I enjoy remembering where I am and what I do. The Rede says to harm none, and I chose to include myself in that statement, and I chose to regard alcohol as a potentially destructive agent.
However, that does not mean all pagans have to. I know pagans who do not include themselves under “harm none.” I know pagans who see drinking as an acceptable activity. And that’s fine, if it works for them (I make exceptions to that statement–it’s not so fine if they are destructively drunk or alcoholics, that’s when they need help). My personal perspective: drink if you want to. But think about your actions. Think about how you are then presented to other people when you drink. Think about the reasons for drinking in the first place. Alcohol, if you drink enough to get drunk, is similar to inhibiting free will–you no longer have the control over your mind and body that you normally would have had you been sober. Is it acceptable for you to inhibit your own free will?