Is Prohibition returning?

Anyone notice a strong anti-alcohol sentiment lately? It’s more than the annual focus on Dry January. For months, each week my recommendations appear online at The Washington Post, at least one commenter has complained that the newspaper is advocating consumption of a carcinogen. These are pretty nasty, mean-spirited comments. And usually met with a good-natured reply from a regular reader pointing out that there are other things the person could read, and of course other common foods or drinks that can cause health problems. But still — some people take it as their mission to go online and throw mud at other peoples’ simple pleasures.

The news has echoed this with reports on studies arguing “no such thing as safe alcohol,” or a post-covid backlash after we all supposedly drank ourselves sick during the initial months of lockdown. Even media coverage of non-alcohol drinks — a subject worthy of its own discussion — seem “obsessed” with the ill effects of alcohol, as the British drinks pub Harper’s recently noted. 

My social media feeds are full of posts from people — even wine pros — boasting that they are cutting back on their alcohol consumption. That’s all well and good: We know our own limits and should respect them. And posting something like this publicly is both a personal diary and public commitment to keep oneself motivated. But it’s also virtue signaling, humble bragging and even shaming in a way. Or is it just me? A majority of my social media friends are still posting photos of unicorn wines they enjoyed at their latest bacchanal. These are just as depressing to read. I’m considering deleting Facebook from my phone to protect me from those lucky enough to enjoy such wines every day as well as those virtuous enough not to. 

But I digress. This current anti-alcohol wave is not really new. The United States has had a weird, tempestuous relationship with alcohol since the beginning, with a pendulum swinging wildly between prohibition and abandon. We wine lovers have been lucky to live at a time when the pendulum swung our way — the 1991 60 Minutes episode on the French Paradox was perhaps an apex, or whatever term describes the widest swing of a pendulum. Wine suddenly was good for us, thanks to red wine’s resveratrol, something most of us had never heard of. Some even argued that a little bit of alcohol itself was good for us. (Want to share the marketing power with white wine, beer and spirits after all.) This coincided with the Baby Boom generation reaching peak economic influence and a focus on the good life.

Every pendulum swings back, of course. The 2008 Great Recession shattered our self-image of  permanent prosperity. Younger generations have been forced to be more moderate in many ways than their Boomer parents. (Note: Those younger, more moderate folks are the same people the prohibitionists feared would use their Boomer parents’ credit cards to have wine delivered through UPS.) Wine (and Hollywood) marketing ideas such as “Mommy’s Time Out” and book clubs that are more about getting plastered than reading may have been humorous, but they promoted the idea of wine (and alcohol more generally) as a crutch and helped fuel a prohibitionist backlash.

This comes around to an old argument: If U.S. culture and society had just developed a rational relationship with beverage alcohol, without the religious or political fervor we see today, we might not have these wild swings of public sentiment. We might instead have something resembling equilibrium, in which people know their limits and drink accordingly. Those who drink would respect those who don’t and be careful to avoid creating situations that make them uncomfortable. And those who don’t drink wouldn’t demonize those who do.

But maybe equilibrium is another unicorn.

About Dave McIntyre

Wine columnist for The Washington Post, co-founder of, and blogger at Dave McIntyre's WineLine (
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9 Responses to Is Prohibition returning?

  1. Dave says:

    In the Foreign Legion barracks in Sidi Bel Abbes, Algeria, the French Women.s Temperance League plastered poster with a skull and crossbones and the message, “Alcohol Kills.” The legionnaires routinely scribbled over it: “But the Legionnaire does not fear Death!”

    Your article was appropriate. We accept risks all the time. The golden mean is still a wise counsel.

  2. Allen Clark says:

    All valid points, and the backlash and criticism have been noticed throughout my wine experiences as well. On a related note, I have to say that I am not drinking as much wine these days, but not due to any political, cultural, or religious reasons or influences. As we get older, we simply don’t tolerate alcohol as well. In addition to the usual effects, there is the increase in blood pressure that has all of its own wonderful impacts. Sigh. I still enjoy a glass of fine wine with a fine meal, but I find myself taking careful note of intake at larger events, such that I’m usually then successful at limiting the damage.

    • Hi Allen – nice to hear from you, and thanks for commenting. I hear you, my friend! I also have the weight issue to think of … and that’s something to be driven home with every sip once we get nutrition labeling.

  3. Found the link to this post among the “Daily News Links” from Wine Business. Several links above was the Daily Mail headline, “Drinking two cans of beer or glasses of wine per day may LOWER chance of developing dementia, major study suggests”. Hmmm.

    • Dave McIntyre says:

      There will always be different conclusions from various studies. Right now, the anti-alcohol voices seem considerably louder. Aside from our back-and-forth history with alcohol, I think Americans speak a good game about liberty but really prefer to criticize and impose restrictions on others. H.L. Mencken once wrote, “Puritanism is the sneaking suspicion that someone, somewhere, is having fun.” You can change out the word Puritanism for a number of other -isms and the sentiment still holds.

      Thank you for commenting!

      • Dave McIntyre says:

        And then of course, just after the headline you quote comes the disclaimer: “but risk goes up with every sip beyond that.”

        • Allen Clark says:

          Nutrition labels! Hadn’t heard that that long-time rumor was finally going to become reality. Will it indicate added acids and MegaPurple? 🙂

        • Dave McIntyre says:

          The TTB is currently taking public comment on the idea. Still a long way off for the US. But new EU refs require it effective this December. Could be on the label or through a QR code on the label, which would probably be easier for wineries.

  4. Randy Agness says:

    Hi Dave I’m working on a presentation for a charity event called Uncork and On Tap called Wine 101 Vineyard to Glass. We help out the local museum $ science center with their gala and fund raising events. Cheers, Randy Agness 315-576-0375

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