What Does Ayurveda Tell Us About Drinking Alcohol?
Whether we’ve had a long day at work or find ourselves relaxing with friends on a Saturday night, it may feel natural for some to reach for a glass of wine or a cocktail to unwind. Part of this impulse is primed by the fact that our culture and media are steeped in the notion of alcohol consumption as a form of relief and relaxation. When alcohol is served at dinners, parties, concerts and even work events, it can be difficult to withhold from drinking or to fully understand the effects of alcohol on our health and wellness.
As research has demonstrated, alcohol consumption is linked to cognitive decline, various cancers, liver disease, heart failure and high blood pressure. Furthermore, the lapse in judgment that alcohol consumption creates can lead to negative behaviors or poor decisions that one would not make otherwise. In addition, alcohol abuse can lead to violent and damaging behaviors, not only to the one drinking but also to their loved ones.
While the risks of drinking on our minds and bodies are significant, this doesn’t mean that alcohol must be avoided entirely. Ayurveda largely considers alcohol to be a toxin that negatively impacts our health. However, the Ayurvedic Charaka Samhita notes that there are certain instances in which it is okay to consume a bit of alcohol—depending on our internal emotional and physical states, age, digestion, season and even the time of day.
Here, we break down the Ayurvedic perspective on alcohol consumption, as well as alternatives to drinking that promote tranquility and stress relief.
Ayurveda on the Effects of Alcohol
According to Ayurveda, alcohol’s properties are drying, heating, rough, light and sharp. Ayurveda believes that alcohol quickly and directly impacts the heart and mind, influencing the gunas that make up our doshas. The ultimate result is that alcohol detracts from our ojas, or the subtle life force in our body that determines our mental and physical radiance. Over time, regular alcohol consumption thus leads to dullness, agitation, decreased health and emotional damage.
Ayurveda stresses that the effects of alcohol impact not only our physical health, but also our emotional and spiritual state. In Ayurveda, which posits that the body, mind, spirit and external environment are intimately connected, we cannot achieve true tranquility and wellness unless our minds are stable, pure and harmonized. The heating and drying effects of alcohol increase Rajas, which is characterized by motion, chaos, anger and agitation. In addition, its dulling effects can exacerbate Tamas, which is characterized by sluggishness and mental stagnation. When we abuse alcohol, our mental clarity becomes clouded, and we can act in anger, violence and fear in ways that harm both ourselves and those around us.
Ultimately, Ayurveda views alcohol as a poison that disrupts our mental and physical wellness and balance.
When Is It Okay to Drink Alcohol?
As we mentioned earlier, while alcohol is by and large disruptive to our wellbeing, Ayurveda also notes that there are occasions where our bodies can effectively and adequately support the consumption of alcohol. Maintaining a balanced diet, exercising regularly, getting adequate sleep, drinking in a positive emotional state and taking into consideration your age, your overall health and your individual risk factors are necessary conditions for consuming alcohol and knowing when to refrain.
For example, you should not drink because you’re feeling sluggish after a long, tiring day of work, or because you want to let off some steam when you’re feeling angry. The dulling, heating and stimulating effects of alcohol will only amplify these states. If you want to enjoy a social drink with others, make sure that you’re in a positive emotional and physical state, and drink in moderation with plenty of food and water.
Furthermore, different types of alcohol are better suited for different doshas:
Ayurvedic Alternatives to Alcohol
The effects that many of us seek when we drink—mental tranquility and relaxation, physical looseness—can be achieved by other natural, health-promoting means. Here are a few Ayurvedic alternatives to drinking: