Alcohol is a Solvent
by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.
“Alcohol is a solvent” declares a so-called health educator in an effort to stigmatize alcohol and frighten people into abstaining.
Of course, other solvents include water, olive oil, vinegar, milk and almost all other liquids. Naturally, the temperance-oriented writer ignores this important fact.
Stigmatizing alcohol is one of the oldest techniques used by anti-alcohol activists. The method has involved a mixture of falsehoods and deceptions.
Early temperance writers often insisted that because of their high blood alcohol content, "habitual drunkards" could spontaneously combust and burn to death from inside. 1
A temperance publication wrote of drinking parents who gave birth to small children with a "yen for alcohol so strong that the mere sight of a bottle shaped like a whiskey flask brought them whining for a nip." 2
One temperance "scientific authority" implied that inhaling alcohol vapors might lead to defective offspring for at least three generations. 3
A major prohibitionist group, the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) taught as "scientific fact" that
- The majority of beer drinkers die from dropsie.
- When alcohol goes down the throat, “it burns off the skin, leaving it bare and burning.”
- It turns blood to water. 4
- It can slowly change heart muscle into fat. 5
The WCTU’s Office of Scientific Temperance Instruction suggested that school teachers put half of a calf’s brain in an empty jar into which alcohol should be poured. As the color of the brain turned from pink to gray, pupils were to be warned that a drink of alcohol would do the same to their brains. 6
The zealots who propagandized for the disastrous National Prohibition early in the 1900’s were blinded by ideology. Consider these ridiculous assertions:
- Alcohol is the dirtiest drug we have. It permeates and damages all tissue. No other drug can cause the same degree of harm that it does.
- Alcohol is harmful to the body.
- Alcohol is a poison and drinking it might lead to death.
- Alcohol is toxic (no level of consumption indicated).
- The effects of alcohol on men (no level of consumption indicated) are that hormone levels change, causing lower sex drive and enlarged breasts.
- Alcohol is a gateway drug leading people into illicit drug use.
- Alcohol (no level of consumption indicated) can cause deterioration of the heart muscle.
Astonishingly, all these statements, which are very misleading at best, were made by officials representing governmental agencies of today. Significantly, the comments are not based on scientific evidence but instead seem to reflect a neo-prohibitionist effort to stigmatize alcohol. 7
So the assertion that “alcohol is a solvent” is simply a part of a long tradition of temperance-oriented efforts to stigmatize alcoholic beverages. We shouldn’t be surprised.