Massage and Alcohol Don't Mix
Updated: Mar 9, 2022
There is a time and place for everything. Massage has its own time and place. So does alcohol. The two should not overlap.
There is a common practice that has always disturbed me in the massage therapy profession, and recently I’ve been plagued by its presence. That practice is the supply of alcohol to massage therapy clients. Alcohol has a powerful effect on the body and should not be taken lightly. Massage does too, but they do not mix together in a healthy way. There are physiological and ethical concerns I have with this oversight by massage therapists. The fact of the matter is that there is no therapeutic value to combining massage therapy with alcohol and we should not approve or enable clients to combine the two.
Physiologically, we know that massage boosts circulation and helps move lymph fluid, which helps eliminate wastes and excess fluids quicker. Massage also creates a state of relaxation, lowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormones (like cortisol) and increases pleasure chemicals (like dopamine and serotonin). Massage also releases toxins from muscle tissue into the bloodstream resulting in a dehydrating effect. This is why most therapists highly encourage drinking water post-massage. This dehydrating effect can heighten the negative effects of alcohol. Massage works in so many ways to restore balance in the body and promote healing.
Alcohol, on the other hand, does the opposite of heal. Alcohol dilates the blood vessels and moves through the bloodstream increasing the Blood Alcohol Level. Like massage, alcohol is a diuretic (has a dehydrating effect) which means when combined, clients will feel the effects of alcohol stronger, faster, and longer. The two compound their dehydrating effect which is counterproductive to health and wellness. This leaves clients prone to cramps, further injury, and increased soreness after a massage. When combined with massage’s effect of increased circulation, alcohol will hit the bloodstream quicker and remain there longer, amplifying drunkenness. Metabolically, alcohol interferes with protein synthesis which is vital to muscle tissue repair. Not to mention alcohol increases the storage of fatty tissue around the abdomen. You also have to consider that alcohol numbs the senses, causing one not to be in touch with their body during and after a massage- this affects our ability to judge the best level of pressure for therapeutic massage. All of this essentially cancels out the positive effects of massage therapy! A 60- or 90-minute session becomes nothing but a waste of time, effort, and money of everyone involved. While massage repairs muscle tissue, drinking after a session causes the body to spend more energy detoxifying instead of on healing and growth. There is even evidence to suggest that alcohol consumption can lead to a weakened immune system, leaving one vulnerable to illness. When it comes down to it, you’re introducing toxins instead of eliminating- it’s counterintuitive.
There are those who will argue “but drinking a glass of wine after a massage is relaxing”. The truth is alcohol doesn’t “relax”; it impairs cognitive reasoning and reflexes, limits motor control and reduces coordination. Alcohol dulls the prefrontal cortex of the brain- the part that is responsible for decision making, rational thought, and controlling aggressive behavior. It should also be noted that alcohol can interrupt the sleep-wake cycle, leading to shorter sleep time and increased fatigue. Drinking actually does the opposite of relax! With an increase in norepinephrine which is responsible for arousal, heightened excitement, and increased impulsivity; all alcohol does is affect judgment and loosen inhibitions that are necessary for a therapeutic relationship.
Therapists enabling clients to mix alcohol and massage is a lapse in ethical behavior. We have to acknowledge that despite our best efforts, there are bad faith actors – clients and therapists alike. Since there is no mechanism to totally screen those acting in bad faith, we should do everything in our power to eliminate the possibility of misconduct. Again, alcohol doesn’t help a client unwind- it lowers inhibitions and provides an excuse for inappropriate behavior. Does it not feel unprofessional and suggestive to provide a massage client alcohol? If anything, serving or providing a client alcohol is a conflict of interest. It numbs their senses and lowers inhibitions while they are already in a vulnerable state, we cannot ignore bad faith actors exist in the therapist role as much as it does in the client’s. This also creates an unnecessary liability for massage therapists. For example, bartenders must carefully evaluate their consumers drunkenness and risk lest they be held liable for any accident that occurs due to their service. Bartenders are trained to lower risks by cutting off or limiting consumption because otherwise they can face revocation of their license. Massage therapists do not have this specialized training. Who is liable should a client cause an accident as a result of your supply of alcohol? The entirety of what our massage law has to say about alcohol is very limited; “The Massage Therapy Technical Advisory Committee may deny, suspend, place on probation, or revoke a license upon any one (1) of the following grounds: Serving alcoholic beverages at the clinic or school in a room where massage therapy is being performed or in a massage therapy school;” That leaves a loophole for alcohol to be served in common areas like waiting rooms or lounge areas. It may seem like a good marketing ploy for therapists to use, but it only leads to unpleasant circumstances. Remember, alcohol does the opposite of heal! It disrespects the time and effort put into a massage.
Can you think of another healthcare or complimentary profession that supplies patients or clients with alcohol upon request? If massage therapists are serious about rehabilitating our image and being taken seriously in healthcare and medical networks, we should collectively support a law or rule change that bans massage therapists from providing alcohol before, during, or after massage services. As a massage therapist, I should not be expected by an employer or requested by a client to serve alcohol. Every drop of alcohol served to a massage client only discredits our profession and further blurs the line between massage and sex work.
I consider this issue a hurdle to the therapeutic work we provide as massage therapists and a direct conflict with our ethical responsibilities as professionals. There is no therapeutic value to combining massage and alcohol and therapists should not condone or enable our clients to do so. Massage and alcohol just don’t mix!
Peace and Healing,
Kirby Clark, MMT