“Alcohol is a solvent” is a misleading statement. It’s often part of an effort to stigmatize alcohol and frighten people into abstaining.
Alcohol is a Drug. Is it also a Toxin or Poison?
Of course, other solvents include water, olive oil, vinegar, milk and almost all other liquids. Naturally, temperance-oriented writers ignore this important fact. So it’s correct to say that alcohol is a solvent. However, it’s also very misleading.
One of the oldest tactics used by anti-alcohol activists is to stigmatize alcohol. The method has involved a mixture of falsehoods and deceptions.
Early temperance writers insisted that “habitual drunkards” could spontaneously combust and burn to death from inside. 1
A temperance book wrote of drinking parents who gave birth to small children. They had 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” suggested that inhaling alcohol vapors might lead to defective offspring for at least three generations. 3
The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was a major prohibition group. It taught the following as “scientific facts.”
- Most beer drinkers die from dropsie.
- When alcohol goes down the throat, ‘it burns off the skin, leaving it bare and burning.’
- Alcohol turns blood into water. 4
- It can slowly change heart muscle into fat. 5
The WCTU’s had an Office of Scientific Temperance Instruction. It suggested that teachers put half of a calf’s brain in an empty jar. Then they should pour alcohol into it. The color of the brain would turn from pink to gray. The teacher should then tell pupils that a drink of alcohol would do the same to their brains. 6
Ideology blinded temperance zealots. And they lacked the results of modern research. Consider these ridiculous assertions:
- The dirtiest drug we have is alcohol. It permeates and damages all tissue. No other drug can cause the same degree of harm that it does.
- Alcohol (no level stated) is harmful to the body.
- The effects of alcohol on men (no level stated) are that hormone levels change. This causes lower sex drive and enlarged breasts.
- Alcohol is a poison. Drinking it might lead to death.
- Alcohol (no level stated) is toxic.
- The substance of alcohol is a gateway drug. It leads people into illicit drug use.
- Alcohol (no level stated) can cause deterioration of the heart muscle.
All these statements are very misleading at best. Astonishingly, government officials of today made them. Significantly, the comments are not factual. Instead, they seem to reflect a neo-prohibitionist effort to stigmatize alcohol. 7
So the assertion that ‘alcohol is a solvent’ is an effort to stigmatize alcoholic beverages.
2. Furnas, J. The Life and Times of the Late Demon Rum. NY: Putnam’s, 1965, p. 194.
4. Kobler, J. Ardent Spirits. NY: Putnam’s, 1973, 143.
7. Hanson, D. Preventing Alcohol Abuse. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1995, ch. 3.