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Synthehol is a chemical variant of alcohol. It appears to have the same taste and smell as "real" alcohol to most individuals, but none of the intoxicating effects associated with alcohol. This being the case, why drink it?

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For the same reason people drink low alcohol beer? –  Richard May 14 at 15:29
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@Richard They didn't look at the label close enough before buying? –  coburne May 14 at 16:34
    
@coburne - Well yes, obviously. –  Richard May 14 at 16:50
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Well, I don't know about you, but I'd rather not have a drunk helmsmen or engineer controlling a ship that runs delicate matter-antimatter combinations... ;) –  N.Soong May 15 at 0:21
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@N.Soong -Things you never want to hear your helmsman say; "Hold my beer and watch this." –  Morgan May 15 at 0:31

4 Answers 4

up vote 28 down vote accepted

Commander Data gives us a pretty good overview of why Synthehol is seen as preferable to Alcohol in the TNG episode "Relics"

  • It is intoxicating but these effects can be 'easily dismissed' if you need to return to duty.
  • It's non-toxic and non-addictive.
  • It looks, smells and tastes similar to alcohol (to all but a connoisseur).

SCOTT : Synthehol?

DATA : Yes. It is an alcohol substitute which is now normally served aboard starships. It simulates the appearance, smell, and taste of alcohol, but the intoxicating affects can be easily dismissed.

The Star Trek Encyclopedia entry on Synthehol seems to draw heavily from the same quote;

Synthehol

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I'm beginning to think it's as much of an acquired 'cultural' taste/norm as it is alcohol content. When you're in Idaho you eat potatoes and when you're in India you use a lot of curry... 'everyone else is doing it'. –  Morgan May 14 at 17:29
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@Morgan - Yes. If it's what you've got then you'll learn to like it better than the real thing, especially when you look at the benefits. –  Richard May 14 at 17:33
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"but these effects can be easily dismissed" - do you know how this happens? Willpower? "Antidote"? –  Marcus Bitzl May 15 at 11:04
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@marcusbitzl - Good question. It's something to do with "enzymes" so I'm guessing you just pop a pill and you're suddenly sober again –  Richard May 15 at 11:08
    
Reminds me of random book I read one time on Kindle, "The Future Perfect". It's a satirical dystopian future novel where people are able to eat as much as they want at parties by taking pills that containing food-eating stomach worms. Of course, if they forget to take the pill that kills them afterward, the worms will basically eat them alive... –  Matthew Neuteboom May 15 at 13:42

Many people -- myself included -- enjoy the taste of alcoholic beverages, but don't like to become intoxicated. Synthehol would allow us to drink more of them without suffering those consequences (or rather, without losing the ability to just shake them off at a whim).

Further, even when "off-duty" we spend the vast majority of our time watching Starfleet personnel on board active starships/space stations. How many times have you seen off-duty personnel being called to duty due to one emergency or another? Just like real world naval vessels, it's quite likely that Starfleet personnel are prohibited from drinking alcohol even off-duty while serving aboard an active ship, since even off-duty personnel can be called to duty in an emergency at any time (and yet even when awoken in the dead of night, they still seem to find the time to get into perfectly pristine uniforms, no matter how urgent the crisis...). Synthehol allows starship/space station personnel the enjoyment of drink, but still allow them to readily dismiss the effects and return to duty at a moment's notice.

That being said, for those who do want to get truly intoxicated there still are options, including Romulan ale (which more than once has been mentioned as being genuinely intoxicating -- not sure if it can't be made with synthehol, or if it just isn't). And while I can't cite specific examples right now, there have been times when we've visited planets and observed seemingly intoxicated patrons at bar establishments (pretty sure there's more than one example in the background in the episode where Picard is kidnapped by the artifact thieves, for example). The point being that while Starfleet personnel on board starships might be drinking synthehol, it seems the "real deal" is still readily available to those who want it (at least while they're not serving on a starship, anyway).

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I know many, many people who drink. Some a lot and some a little but not a one would drink non-alcohol beer if they were in a situation where alcohol beer was inappropriate or not available. They drink water, pop, coffee, juice, etc., but not 'beer placebo'. –  Morgan May 14 at 16:00
    
lol. Chief Engineers may be excluded. Bless Mr. Scott for being the rebel he is/was/will be. –  Major Stackings May 14 at 16:01
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@Morgan You're confusing real life with fiction. There is no such thing as synthehol here in the real world, those friends of yours who refuse non-alcoholic beer do so because that stuff tastes like bantha poo (and often smells like the insides of a tauntaun)! If there were synthehol -- a substance with all the same taste and smells as alcohol, but none of the intoxicating effects -- a lot of people (not all) would drink it; for the others (i.e. those who do want the intoxicating effects and aren't serving aboard and active starship) Star Trek is still full of real alcohol. –  Kromey May 14 at 16:17
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@Kromey -"You're confusing real life with fiction." No I'm not, Star Trek is real! –  Morgan May 14 at 16:24
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Good edit. Changed my downvote to an upvote –  Richard May 14 at 20:48

It's to explain how they could be hanging out in the bar all the time talking to Whoopie Goldberg and still jump up & be ready to duty when the alarm rang

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From my memory of the Second Edition Star Trek Encyclopedia: Synthehol is an alcohol substitute invented by the Ferengi. It is functionally and flavorfully identical to alcohol with one difference: the effects of intoxication can be literally willed away. Although the exact mechanism for this drunkness-dismissal is never directly revealed, it was implied to merely require an internal act of willpower equivalent to making the decision to no longer be impaired.

Synthehol-based beverages were originally served by Ferengi prior to and during negotiations so as to allow them to drink heavily, thereby encouraging their soon-to-be opponents to do the same. When the time came to commence with deal-making, the Ferengi would suddenly be mysteriously sharp and unimpaired, while their opponents would be sloppy drunk and at a distinct disadvantage when it came to negotiating. Eventually this fact became widely known, nobody was willing to drink with Ferengi prior to striking a deal, and the Ferengi realized they could make more profit selling an alcohol you can choose whether to be intoxicated by than they ever made using it to tip negotiations in their favor.

Although I recall at least one non-canon Star Trek novel (Balance of Power, by Dafydd ab Hugh) making reference to a synthehol still in a student dorm room at Starfleet Academy, my impression from canon sources was that all synthehol-based drinks were produced by Ferengi or their agents and the secret of its production was closely guarded.

The reasons for synthehol's adoption over alcohol by Starfleet are obvious, however, as the question of allowing alcohol on-board sea-going vessels has presented a problem for terrestrial navies as long as they have existed. Allow alcohol, and morale increases dramatically, but so do the problems associated with intoxicated sailors on duty. Morale is a serious concern for the commander of any vessel, as Synthehol allows Starfleet to sidestep this problem neatly.

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Can you substantiate your claims with some quotes? –  Richard May 15 at 19:28

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