Thursday, July 7, 1955: Can you get drunk on beer?

Posted on July 9th, 2008 – 7:50 PM
By Ben Welter

In a United Press story published in the Minneapolis Tribune, a Yale man who probably managed to avoid frat houses during his undergrad years demonstrates that you can be right about all the facts and still come to the wrong conclusion.

Can You Get Drunk on Beer?

‘No,’ Says Yale Professor; ‘Yes,’ Say Others

NEW YORK – (UP) – Yale university’s famed studies on alcoholism have produced a controversy over whether or not beer is an intoxicating beverage.

Dr. Leon A. Greenberg, Yale professor of physiology, said beer isn’t – and should be reclassified to the non-intoxicating drinks.

This brought emphatic objection from other scientists. They wanted to know if the man who is “high” or “tight” isn’t also drunk. Beer certainly makes people “high” and “tight,” they said.

Greenberg’s scientific theory went like this:

For people to show consistently the “abnormal behavior” which goes with intoxication, the alcohol content of their blood must be 0.15 per cent or higher.

THE AVERAGE alcohol content of American beers is 3.7 per cent by weight. In order for the alcohol blood level to be at 0.15 per cent, there would have to be two and one-half quarts of 3.7 beer in the stomach. But the capacity of the human stomach is one and one-half to two quarts.

Therefore, no one can drink enough beer at one time to get intoxicated, according to theory. As for doing it by degrees: beer is destroyed or eliminated in the body at the rate of one-third of a quart an hour. So three quarts would have to be consumed in two or three hours, and this, he said, was “physiologically unnatural.”

“THE ALCOHOLIC must not drink beer. He must not drink beer, not because it is intoxicating but because, like a small amount of alcohol in any other form, it may facilitate the uncontrolled drinking for which the alcoholic has a special liability.”

His v[i]ews were published in the official journal of the Yale studies. Other scientists were invited to publish their objections at the same time. And these objections were mainly that Greenberg did not recognize stages or degrees of drunkenness – the differences between a man who is a little drunk and one who is very drunk.

Dr. Albion Roy King, professor of philosophy, Cornell college, Mount Vernon, Iowa, said Greenberg has performed a “feat of word manufacture and manipulation which simply makes more graphic what everybody knows, that it takes more drinking to get tight on beer than on whisky.”

Dr. Harry M. Tiebout, a psychiatrist and vice chairman of the Connecticut commission on alcoholism, said Greenberg’s view is “simple nonsense – in the eyes of most beer drinkers.”

“THEY MAY KNOW nothing about their blood level or the percentage alcohol content of the beer drink, and they care less.

“What they do know is that they get drunk on beer, using their definition. Alcohol is alcohol, in any concentration and its regular use can lead to trouble.”

Dr. Frank J. O’Brien, associate superintendent of schools, New York city, objected to the generalizing on the grounds that alcohol affects different people differently.

Maybe he was thinking of this: An A&W root beer stand in about 1955. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)

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