The festival and celebration culture of our city surprises so many visitors. They are expecting some high level of music, cuisine, drinking, revelry and spontaneous partying, but they are usually taken aback, in a good way, at the frequency and intensity of these activities.

Unlike our friends over at Disney, what happens in New Orleans is staged for our own enjoyment, but we are always happy to welcome our out-of-town guests into the local experience. Other places stage happenings for the benefit of visitors and attracting out-of-town money. We do it because it’s what we do and if you happen to be on the street visiting from anywhere, then join the parade. Dine on our cuisine. Drink at our watering holes. You are never just a spectator; you are expected to be a participant.

It is exactly the fact that so many of our visitors underestimate our capacities for celebration that they find themselves in a world of hurt, begging for relief and going home wondering not why we do it, but how we do it. Other cities have attempted to emulate New Orleans’ continual joie de vivre.  Those that have succeeded comprise a very short list.

One of the essential ingredients in our celebrations is widespread availability of alcohol. Hell, we likely would not even go to so many activities if there was not alcohol present. Think about it. Would any festival, even those staged by churches, attract anyone without offering a friendly glass of beer or wine, or, usually, some dandy cocktails? Would the Dome be packed with energetic Who-Dats without the foam?

Having adult beverages present at every turn is not absolutely essential, but it doesn’t hurt attendance. And even the JazzFest manages to turn a tidy profit by icing down thirst-quenching beer on some pretty warm days.

The fact that we are continually in the presence of beer, wines and spirits does not add to our understanding of those liquids. In fact, we may be woefully ignorant of what they are doing to our system. Oh sure, they make us feel better and we also perceive ourselves to be more clever and social than we likely are with their use. But that is not the whole story.

Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine, a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy." 

There is no evidence that Franklin said, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” What the heck? Either way is indicative of a direction of thought.

The alcohol that we consume with great pleasure is ethyl alcohol, the result of fermentation among yeast, sugar, and starch. It is important to remember that alcohol is alcohol, no matter what form it takes. A 12-ounce beer has about the same alcohol as a 5-ounce wine, and each have about the same amount of alcohol as an 11/2 ounce shot of spirits. Those amounts vary from label to label but they are approximate across the products.

Alcohol is a depressant, absorbed into the stomach and the small intestines and then distributed to every area of the body, even the brain.

5% of the alcohol you ingest is eliminated through the kidneys; the lungs exhale 5%, which explains why breathalyzer tests are effective at measuring alcohol in the body; and the liver does the rest of the work, breaking down 90% of ingested alcohol.

Alcohol is metabolized by the liver at the average rate of one standard drink per hour. Nothing can speed this up, not coffee, cold showers, or across the counter drugs claiming to have a mitigating effect. You can assist in starting this process by drinking water before you imbibe alcohol, and you can minimize, never eliminate, the effects of alcohol on your bodily systems by continuing to drink water while you are drinking alcohol.

But only time can put you at a normal level of bodily functions, such as proper operations of speech, sight, muscle coordination, digestive system, etc. Your body even indicates it wants to rest to deal with the situation and that explains why late at parties you see so many folks with droopy eyelids and lack of interest in their surroundings. Or you may just be at a dull party. Go someplace else.  

We don’t need to dance around the subject of alcohol being a drug. It is. As such, it demands respect. You don’t put anything into your body, I hope, not being familiar with the desired effects as well as the side effects. Depending on who you are, as determined by age, weight, mental state, ethnicity, and gender; what you have done prior to ingestion; what you are doing, even who you are with; and what else is in your system by way of medications, liquids or food, all these are factors in determining how you will be affected by alcohol and how quickly.

With alcohol it’s never a matter of whether you will be affected, but how and how much. You will always be affected. Plan on it. It does not matter how in control and normal you think you are, it’s always a matter to what degree.   

In general, this chart can assist you in determining how much alcohol is too much for you.

Let me also state that alcoholism is another matter and is a disease. It affects certain people in distressful ways. If you feel that alcohol owns you, instead of the other way around, and that you absolutely need the drug, back off. Get the craving under control. Get professional help, if necessary. Then know yourself before you go back to that point in your life.

Lastly, have fun with fine wines, spirits and beers. These products really add to the quality of life, and like everything else, when improperly used, do not add to enjoyment.

Ben Franklin had it right. We should all appreciate his viewpoint.

(Special thanks to B.R.A.D., Be Responsible About Drinking; the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependance, and the Virginia Tech Alcohol Abuse Prevention website)