Philosophy   > Alcohol, Drugs, & Ethics

Don Lutz, author of "The Weaning of America," The Case Against Dairy Products


I've attended scores of lectures, seminars, workshops, conferences and conventions, addressing issues such as organic farming, natural healing and environmental ethics. Most of these have promoted veganism or ethical vegetarianism: a philosophy that includes all the inhabitants of this planet, as opposed to only human interests. It has disturbed me that organizations of many of these events have served alcohol beverages to attendees.


A vegan is, of course, not just a 'strict vegetarian,' but is someone who is aware of and concerned with all ethical issues from racism and sexism to conservation of resources and respect for the environment. Alcohol, therefore, is not vegan.


All of us, even those who are alcoholics, are aware of the ethical problems associated with alcohol. Most domestic violence has an alcohol component. A high percentage of auto accidents are related to alcohol. Exact figures are difficult because of many factors, including drug combining.


The alcohol industry, of course, is quick to remind us that not all alcohol users are irresponsible. But the insidious effects and addictive qualities of alcohol make it a high risk habit for anyone. Alcohol is a major contributor to problems with pregnancy, childbirth and birth defects. Alcohol inhibits digestion, and compromises the immune system, contributing to a host of problems including cancer, heart disease, ulcers, diabetes, and of course, sclerosis of the liver.


The notion that a little bit of alcohol is good for you, is little more than a popular myth promoted by the alcoholism industry. Even if it were true, how many drinkers do you know who can limit their consumption to one ounce or less per day?


But vegan philosophy involves more than just human health. Few of us consider that land that is used to grow grain for the alcohol industry could be better used to grow food for starving people. That 'social' beer shared daily by millions of Americans adds up to a tremendous waste of resources, including water and fossil fuels used in the creation, storage and distribution of alcohol beverages. The pollution generated by the industry is another story, not well documented or publicized because of the power of the polluters.


The problems associated with alcohol can generally be evidenced with another American institution, the use of nicotine. Responsible health professionals, such as Dr. Agatha Thrash, consider alcohol and nicotine, poisons. A hangover is evidence of alcohol poisoning, the most common form of 'food' poisoning. Most drinkers also smoke, and are vaguely aware of the seriousness of their problem, made substantially worse by combining the two drugs. By causing rapid changes in blood sugar levels, alcohol and nicotine, especially in combination, may actually create "addictive personalities" in otherwise "normal" people. Nicotine and alcohol are among the most addictive of all known drugs.


And, of course, tobacco, like the grain used for alcohol, is not a food crop, it is a cash crop. Valuable resources are wasted so that the tobacco conglomerates can maintain their control over the minds of nicotine addicts. Some thirty years ago, I was brought to tears by a 30-minute movie made by actor Richard Boone. Boone, a lifelong smoker was dying of lung cancer. He played himself in the movie, designed to expose the pain and suffering caused by nicotine addiction. The movie was apparently aired only once, early on a Sunday morning. Few people saw this heart-rendering story; it had no significant effect on industry profits.


When the horrors of DDT were made public in the 1950's, environmentalists pushed hard to ban the pesticide. It was eventually banned in the U.S., but the process took years because of industry lobbying. The production of DDT, however, didn't decrease. By the time U.S. ban went into effect, the DDT market had been successfully transferred overseas, especially to China. This was one of the great accomplishments of Nixon and Kissinger, as part of their acclaimed new 'rapport' with our former enemy.


A very similar process is happening with nicotine. Cigarette sales are dropping in the U.S., but industry profits continue to rise because of foreign markets. At one time it was illegal to advertise cigarettes in many southeast Asian countries. These laws have been repealed as part of the wonderful "shuttle diplomacy" deals. Weapons, fuel, food and drugs are the stuff of international treaties. Poor nations with massive debts have little choice but to accept the deals orchestrated by multinational corporations. This is our real foreign policy.


Alcohol and nicotine are two of the three most seriously abused drugs in the world. By this we mean the total damage done to the most people. The third drug of this unholy trinity is caffeine. Surprised? While the problems with booze and cigarettes are fairly obvious, this is not yet the case with caffeine.


Caffeine offers many of the same benefits as the other two. It is also very addictive, but much more insidious, because it is part of such innocent-appearing pastimes: drinking coffee and tea. Tea, it's important to note, can be made from countless plants. Some have risky components such as caffeine and tannin, others do not. Commercial teas, with few exceptions, are high in caffeine. It's no accident: it's addictive, so it sells.


I've heard people say, "I don't have a problem with caffeine, I don't drink coffee!" while they guzzle their fifth can of Coca-Cola for the day. Caffeine is found in most 'soft' drinks, as well as in 'diet' pills, 'energy' pills and many prescription and non-prescription drugs.

There aren't a lot of studies on caffeine. We know it has similar health risks to nicotine, though it affects the digestive system more than the lungs. But many studies to date are questionable, because they attempt to study drugs as if they were always used independently. Most people who use one of these drugs, use at least two of them, and typically, all three. So the studies desperately needed are those which look at the combined effect of the three, which appears to be dramatically more profound than the effect of each, were they used independently.


Statistics, therefore, can be misleading, and if anything, the risks of combining the 'big three' are much higher than previously suspected. It should be obvious, even to the most defensive, close-minded, that combining a lot of drugs is dangerous. A person who uses alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, prescription drugs, and any of the illegal drugs, will eventually destroy his or her immune system and exhibit the classic symptoms of AIDS, without necessarily being infected by a virus at all.


So, it's difficult to put numbers on deaths or disease caused by individual drugs. A minimum or reading, however, if only statistical almanacs, will disclose that the disease and suffering caused by legal drugs may outweigh the damage from illegal drugs by 50 to one.

A physician friend, who asked not to be named out of fear of recrimination, showed me a list of drugs which he rated as causing the most damage to human health, worldwide. His list, worst first, is as follows:


Non-prescription drugs
Prescription drugs
Illegal amphetamines
Illegal barbiturates


He was quick to remind me that few people use only one of the above, and it is the combinations that are the most dangerous.


Are all the above drugs then, not vegan? By ethical definition, anything that causes suffering is not vegan. Abusing any drug is not vegan. Using some of the above intelligently, may be considered vegan.


For example, the commercial marijuana that comes into the U.S. by the megaton, is not vegan. It is grown primarily for profit, may be dangerous (pesticides, molds, fungi, bacteria) and as it is currently marketed, is a sad waste of resources.


You may have noticed that the top five of the above 'dangerous' drug list are legal (with some restrictions). This situation exists because the legality or illegality of drugs is determined by the profiteers, not by health professionals, economists or environmentalists. The current sad state of affairs offers incredible profits for both legal and illegal drug pushers.


Perhaps the most important attribute of vegans, perfectly in tune with the principles of Jiv Daya and Ahimsa, is a thirst for knowledge, which, when tempered with compassion, yields wisdom. An open mind and an open heart permit objective assessment of subjective knowledge. An objective look at mortality stats exposes legal drugs as the real drug problem in American society. And drug abuses are not compatible with vegan living