For years, experts have been saying that consuming alcohol in moderation is safe.
It may even be beneficial in some cases – possibly preventing serious health problems like heart disease, stroke, and even diabetes.
Some media outlets have even gone so far as to claim that “taking a load off” with a few drinks is actually better for you than exercise.
But according to a brand-new study released in late August, any alcohol – even a drink a day – may actually be much more dangerous than we thought.
In what’s been called “the most comprehensive estimate of the global burden of alcohol use to date,” researchers found that drinking is actually the leading risk factor for premature death and disability in 15 to 49-year-olds across the world.
In fact, nearly 1 in 10 deaths in this age group can apparently be traced back to alcohol-related causes.
On top of that, as many as 2.8 million individuals of all ages around the world lost their lives to alcohol during 2016.
Ultimately, the study suggests that even a single drink per day may be putting you at risk.
“Our results, the report states, “show that the safest level of drinking is none. This level is in conflict with most health guidelines, which espouse the health benefits associated with consuming up to two drinks per day.”
This news, unsurprisingly, comes as a bit of a shock – especially to those who have been told for decades that a glass or two of spirits a night is a perfectly healthy way to end the evening.
But it’s hard to argue with numbers like these. And that means it might be time to take a more serious look at how we treat the most socially acceptable and widely abused addictive substance in the world.
Broad, Comprehensive New Study Packs Clout
Published in The Lancet on August 23rd, this study was part of the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study. Along with the WHO Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health, this is the most comprehensive look at the far-reaching effects of alcohol available today.
The analysis looked at data on both males and females aged 15 to 95 years from 195 different locations from 1990 to 2016.
Researchers compiled data from two different kinds of sources: 694 studies looking at the extent of global drinking and 592 studies (which included 128 million people) examining the health risks.
From this data, researchers were able to improve current estimates of worldwide alcohol-related deaths and disabilities using 23 associated health outcomes. Added to that, they were also able to provide a clearer picture of just how sweeping alcohol use and abuse is today.
Some Shocking Results
The authors of the study found that the global health burden of alcohol abuse was far more severe than most experts had thought.
According to the data, alcohol was the number one risk factor for death and disability among 15 to 49-year-olds and the seventh leading risk factor among all age groups.
Among the younger subsection, there were three leading causes of alcohol-related death: tuberculosis (1.4%), road injuries (1.2%), and self-harm including accidental injuries like falling (1.1%).
Among those aged 50 and up, researchers found that alcohol consumption was a major risk factor for dying from various types of cancers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, alcohol is known to increase the risk of six types of cancer in particular: mouth and throat, larynx, esophagus, colon and rectum, liver, and breast.
And according to this study, nearly one-quarter of cancer deaths could be traced back to drinking habits.
The study also points out that the risks associated with drinking increase quicker than most people might expect. According to Dr. Max Griswald, lead author of the study, “Although the health risks associated with alcohol start off being small with one drink a day, they then rise rapidly as people drink more.”
For instance, as The Guardian points out, a single drink a day increases the alcohol-related risks in young people by only 0.5%. However, that risk jumps up to 7% for two drinks a day and up to 37% for those who consume five drinks a day.
And when it comes to countries like Romania, Portugal, and Ukraine where the average number of drinks per day can be as high as eight, this can mean a very real risk to overall health.
What About “Just A Glass with Dinner”?
Heavy alcohol consumption is dangerous – that we know. But surely the benefits of moderate drinking at least outweigh the risk factors.
After all, who hasn’t seen articles about how a glass of wine with dinner can stave off serious health conditions like diabetes, stroke, and heart attack? And these stories aren’t coming from outlets like The National Enquirer or Weekly World News either.
Don’t be so sure.
According to the study, researchers only found statistically significant benefits of alcohol consumption when it came to heart disease. For this study, they didn’t observe any significant outcomes when it came to either diabetes or stroke.
On top of that, they found that the risk of developing all other negative health outcomes, including all cancers, increased along with alcohol consumption.
In the end, the minor benefit that a single drink a day can provide when it comes to heart disease is far outweighed by the massive detriments that alcohol can have when it comes to other health problems.
“Previous studies have found a protective effect of alcohol on some conditions,” Dr. Griswald explains, “but we found that the combined health risks associated with alcohol increases with any amount of alcohol. The strong association between alcohol consumption and the risk of cancer, injuries, and infectious diseases offset the protective effects for heart disease in our study.”
Ultimately, researchers found that the “widely held view of the health benefits of alcohol needs revising, particularly as improved methods and analyses continue to show how much alcohol use contributes to global death and disability. Our results,” the study concludes, “show that the safest level of drinking is none.”
Still More Work To Be Done
As monumental as the study may be, it isn’t perfect. One of the most powerful ideas behind scientific research (and addiction research in particular) is that any study, no matter how comprehensive, can be improved upon. And this one is no different.
There are a couple of major drawbacks to this study and ways that future examinations could develop it even further.
- Alcohol Types – While the data paints a pretty vivid picture of the health risks of alcohol, it doesn’t include info on the various kinds of beverages. Wine, beer, and liquor all have very different flavor profiles, manufacturing processes, ingredients, and more. And it stands to reason that two glasses of wine a night might create very different health risks than two shots of gin.
- Drinking Patterns – This study and the mass majority of others use the “average drinks per day” measure. And it makes sense – narrowing down and estimating the specific drinking patterns of each individual would be an insurmountable task. That being said, the health outcomes for the people in this study may have been influenced by both the amount of drink and how they drank. Once a day versus weekend-long binge drinking may create wholly different results – and yet, both scenarios may still have the same average drinks per day.
- Better Data – As the study points out, there are still plenty of areas where outcome reporting and data collection need to be improved. For instance, the study doesn’t fully capture consumption that stems from illicit production. It also doesn’t dive into age ranges below 15 years because of poor data. And since underage drinking is such a problem today, this is a major gap. On top of that, drunk driving data and interpersonal violence from alcohol data are all still lacking. Improving on any of these could help make future studies more complete.
A Few More Interesting Takeaways
While the health outcomes and the baseline safe drinking measures were the most notable outcomes of this study, the analysis also brought to light a number of other interesting takeaways as well.
There are two in particular worth mentioning. First, men and women have very different relationships with alcohol as well as very different health outcomes. And second, this study helped shine a light on how extensive drinking is in other countries around the world.
Men & Women: Bottle of the Sexes
Addiction experts have long known that gender is an undeniable risk factor for drug dependence. And it’s no surprise that the two sexes interact with alcohol in very different ways.
What’s interesting about this study is how drastic these differences are as well as how health outcomes can vary wildly between men and women.
Here are some results from the study to better demonstrate the disparity.
- Among all age groups, 2.2% of female deaths and 6.8% of male deaths were due to alcohol-related causes.
- Youth and adult males were far more at risk than females. Of 15 to 49-year-olds, 3.8% of female deaths came from alcohol. Among males, 12.2% of deaths were caused by alcohol.
- Disability-adjusted life-years or DALYs (a measure of disability due to disease or injury) were different among the sexes too. Men aged 15 to 49 had 8.9% of DALYs attributable to alcohol while women only had 2.3%.
- Surprisingly, alcohol-related cancers affected men and women quite differently too. Around 19% of alcohol-attributable deaths in males over 49 were caused by cancers. But for women of the same age, more than 27% of alcohol deaths came from cancer.
Drinking Around the World: How Do Different Countries Stack Up?
One of the most interesting things about this study comes from just how far-reaching the data is. Researchers pulled numbers from literally hundreds of different studies conducted around the world to analyze the health risks of drinking.
And in doing so, they provided the raw data necessary to see which countries are drinking the most and which are the staying statistically sober. Below are a few stats collected from the study by Science Daily to help give some global perspective.
ALCOHOL-ATTRIBUTABLE DEATH RATES (PER 100,000 PEOPLE), 15-49 YEARS, BOTH SEXES, 2016
- Highest rates:
- Lesotho: 145.3
- Russia: 118.4
- Central African Republic: 108.8
- Ukraine: 92.2
- Burundi: 81.1
- Lithuania: 76.1
- Belarus: 71.2
- Mongolia: 67.6
- Latvia: 65.5
- Kazakhstan: 62.2
- Lowest rates:
- Kuwait: 0.3
- Iran: 0.4
- Palestine: 0.4
- Libya: 0.7
- Saudi Arabia: 0.7
- Yemen: 0.9
- Jordan: 1.3
- Maldives: 1.4
- Singapore: 1.6
- Syria: 1.7
PREVALENCE (%) OF CURRENT DRINKERS, ALL AGES, 2016
- Highest prevalence:
- Denmark: 97.1
- Norway: 94.3
- Argentina: 94.3
- Germany: 94.3
- Poland: 93.8
- France: 93.1
- South Korea: 91.3
- Switzerland: 91.2
- Greece: 90.8
- Iceland: 90.3
- Highest prevalence:
- Lowest prevalence:
- Pakistan: 0.9
- Bangladesh: 1.0
- Egypt: 1.1
- Mali: 2.5
- Morocco: 3.0
- Senegal: 3.2
- Mauritania: 3.2
- Syria: 5.0
- Indonesia: 7.2
- Palestine: 7.9
- Lowest prevalence:
- Highest prevalence:
- Denmark: 95.3
- Norway: 91.4
- Germany: 90.0
- Argentina: 89.9
- New Zealand: 88.5
- Switzerland: 88.4
- Slovakia: 87.2
- France: 86.9
- Sweden: 86.1
- Iceland: 84.8
- Highest prevalence:
- Lowest prevalence:
- Bangladesh: 0.3
- Morocco: 1.1
- Pakistan: 1.5
- Egypt: 1.5
- Nepal: 1.5
- Syria: 1.6
- Bhutan: 1.9
- Myanmar: 2.3
- Tunisia: 2.3
- Senegal: 2.6
- Lowest prevalence:
POPULATION AVERAGE OF STANDARD DRINKS DAILY, ALL AGES, 2016
- Greatest number of drinks:
- Romania: 8.2
- Portugal: 7.3
- Luxembourg: 7.3
- Lithuania: 7.0
- Ukraine: 7.0
- Bosnia and Herzegovina: 6.5
- Belarus: 6.0
- Estonia: 6.0
- Spain: 5.8
- Hungary: 5.5
- Greatest number of drinks:
- Lowest numbest of drinks:
- Pakistan: 0.0008
- Iran: 0.004
- Kuwait: 0.02
- Comoros: 0.02
- Libya: 0.02
- Bangladesh: 0.03
- Palestine: 0.04
- Mauritania: 0.05
- Yemen: 0.05
- Saudi Arabia: 0.05
- Lowest numbest of drinks:
- Highest number of drinks:
- Ukraine: 4.2
- Andorra: 3.4
- Luxembourg: 3.4
- Belarus: 3.4
- Sweden: 3.2
- Denmark: 3.2
- Ireland: 3.1
- United Kingdom: 3.0
- Germany: 2.9
- Switzerland: 2.8
- Highest number of drinks:
- Lowest number of drinks:
- Iran: 0.0003
- Kuwait: 0.01
- Mauritania: 0.02
- Libya: 0.02
- Pakistan: 0.03
- Timor-Leste: 0.04
- Palestine: 0.04
- Yemen: 0.04
- Tunisia: 0.04
- Syria: 0.05
- Lowest number of drinks:
How Does Alcohol Affect the Body?
With all this talk about how much alcohol can shorten lifespans and contribute to disability, it’s important to remember just how problem drinking impacts the body.
Now, all addictive substances can end up causing some pretty serious medical problems over time. Brain damage, lung disease, heart irregularities, and even seizures are just some of the most common.
One of the body’s main filtration systems, the liver removes toxins from the blood and breaks down harmful chemicals coursing through the veins.
However, it can only handle a certain amount of work at a time. And with alcohol, this vital organ can quickly become dangerously overloaded. When that happens, the harmful chemicals and some of the toxic byproducts of the breakdown can end up damaging the liver itself.
Acetaldehyde, a poisonous byproduct of how the liver breaks down alcohol, can build up in an over-worked liver. And as a result, it can damage liver cells and cause permanent scarring (cirrhosis) – making this organ even less effective over time. About 1 in 10 heavy drinkers will eventually develop cirrhosis.
Added to that, a damaged liver has a harder time breaking down fats in the bloodstream. Eventually, that fat collects and can end up damaging the liver even more and even turn into alcoholic hepatitis.
This most-essential of organs isn’t free from the harmful effects of alcohol either. Regular consumptions can lead to a boatful of diseases. Hypertension, stroke, alcoholic cardiomyopathy (enlargement and weakening of the heart), and congestive heart failure are just a few worth mentioning.
Part of what makes alcohol so deadly when it comes to the heart is the fact that alcohol is a vasodilator. That means that it essentially makes blood vessels relax and expand.
While this might not sound all that bad at first, the newly-relaxed blood vessels actually end up flowing through the skin and tissues at a higher rate. And that means that some of the vital organs like the lungs, kidneys, and brain aren’t getting as much blood as they need.
As a result, the heart has to beat harder and faster just to get the blood delivered to where it needs to go. And over time, this increased workload can lead to the serious conditions listed above.
This is where the magic happens for drinkers. It’s the way that alcohol interacts with the brain that creates the euphoria, reduced inhibitions, and relaxation that drinking is associated with. Specialized chemicals called neurotransmitters are tweaked and inhibited, causing them not to work like they normally do.
And while this can create some desirable effects at first, over time, alcohol consumption can lead to permanent damage to what’s arguably the body’s most essential organ.
There are two conditions of the brain in particular that are quite unique to alcoholics: Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome and hepatic encephalopathy.
The first, also known as wet brain, is a devastating disease caused by a thiamine deficiency. Sufferers experience bleeding in the brain, causing seriously impacted vision, coordination, and balance. Eventually, the disease can result in chronic pain and a debilitating loss of memory.
The second disease, hepatic encephalopathy, is actually brain damage caused by a failing liver. As this organ becomes less able to break down alcohol, the chemical’s potent toxicity can cause permanent damage to the brain.
The results are changes in sleep patterns, altered mood, psychiatric disorders like anxiety and depression, decreased attention span, coordination problems, and even coma or death.
As you can see, alcohol’s effects on the brain can end up being some of the most detrimental of all.
Another one of the body’s most effective filters, the kidney helps regulate fluids in the body while removing waste and toxins from the bloodstream.
There are three major ways that alcohol consumption impacts these important organs.
First, drinking is notorious for dehydrating the body. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons that drinkers get a hangover (unless they’re high-functioning alcoholics that is). And when the body is dehydrated, it can make it significantly harder for kidneys (which help regulate hydration) to do their job properly.
Second, alcohol can cause an increase in blood pressure. This high blood pressure can ultimately cause arteries around the kidneys to narrow, weaken, or harden – making it more difficult to get blood to these important organs. And that, of course, can lead to kidney damage and failure.
Finally, problem drinking can also cause damage to the liver as we’ve seen. This, in turn, can end up making kidneys have to work harder to filter the blood since the liver isn’t sharing as much of the burden. And that overworking can lead to serious damage.
One of the first organs that alcohol interacts with, the stomach can undergo some wide-ranging problems caused by too much drinking.
Abdominal pain, vomiting, bloating, diarrhea, bleeding, ulcers, and even tumors can all come about directly as a result of unregulated drinking. One of the main problems that often leads to all of these symptoms is a condition known as gastritis.
Gastritis is when the lining of the stomach becomes inflamed. This can cause problems with the release of stomach mucous which protects the lining from the powerful acids the body uses to digest foods. Without that mucous, this acid can end up seriously damaging the stomach walls.
And that weakened lining can also end up causing the host of symptoms listed above.
Even just one episode of heavy drinking can end up impacting the health of the esophagus and mouth.
For the esophagus, the lower esophageal sphincter can end up being damaged which, in turn, can increase the likelihood of acid reflux. Added to that, unchecked drinking can also up the risk of developing serious diseases of the esophagus like nutcracker esophagus, Barrett’s esophagus, and Mallory-Weiss syndrome.
When it comes to the mouth, the dangers of over-drinking can be just as frightening. Tooth loss, gum disease, tooth decay, and even oral cancers can all come about as a result of consuming too much alcohol. In fact, heavy drinking is actually the second largest risk factor for oral cancer.
While the exact cause is still being researched, studies have shown that heavy drinking is associated with severe damage to the pancreas, also known as pancreatitis.
The correlation is especially strong when it comes to hard liquor. One study found that “for every increment of five drinks of hard liquor (one drink is 40mL) consumed in one sitting, the risk of developing acute pancreatitis increased by 52%.” The researchers note that the same risk doesn’t correspond with beer or wine consumption.
Some of the nasty symptoms of acute pancreatitis include upper abdominal pain, abdominal pain that radiates to the back, fever, nausea, and vomiting.
Of course, There Are Other Effects of Over-Imbibing Too…
The dangers of a bad drinking habit aren’t relegated just to body damage either. In fact, some of the most devastating consequences actually have more to do with how alcohol affects an individual’s behaviors, not just their body.
Heavy or problematic drinking is an enormous risk factor when it comes to developing alcoholism – that’s a fact. In many cases, the more an individual drinks, the more likely they’ll be to develop a full-fledged addiction.
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, as many as 15.1 million American adults met the criteria for having an alcohol use disorder.
And in addition to the many physical maladies of alcoholism that are described above, there are plenty of other consequences as well.
Addiction, for example, can truly devastate social and familial relationships. So often the lies, deception, and disregard for loved ones that follows substance abuse can tear families apart.
Added to that, even relationships that do hold together can often result in unwanted dynamics. Whether it’s fostering an unhealthy form of codependency or leading to consistent enabling behaviors, addiction in relationships can end up being toxic, even if those relationships still stay intact.
And when you combine that with the financial instability, lack of control, problems with the law, and the many other problems associated with a substance use disorder, developing an addiction can be and often is life-shattering.
Without a doubt, one of the most tragic possible effects of overdrinking, driving under the influence (a.k.a. drunk driving) is a hazard that not only puts the drinker in danger, it also imperils everyone else on the road as well.
And to make matters worse, deaths from drunk driving are much more common than you might expect. Here are a few statistics from the CDC to help put the problem into perspective:
- In 2016, 10,497 people died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes, accounting for 28% of all traffic-related deaths in the United States.
- Of the 1,233 traffic deaths among children ages 0 to 14 years in 2016, 214 (17%) involved an alcohol-impaired driver.
- In 2016, more than 1 million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics. That’s one percent of the 111 million self-reported episodes of alcohol-impaired driving among U.S. adults each year.
In addition to the threat of drunk driving, the lack of coordination and judgment from overdrinking can also translate into other forms of accidental injury. While it may seem harmless at the time, tripping, slipping, and falling while intoxicated can lead to very serious damage.
Some studies have even suggested that as many as 45% of emergency department visits are from alcohol-related cases.
Slowed reaction time is also a very real concern too. When someone falls while sober, they’re more likely to duck their head or protect their face with their hands. When someone is intoxicated, however, they may not be able to react in time, resulting in more severe injuries.
One study found that among 351 injury patients at an Ireland hospital, 113 had consumed alcohol before being injured while 238 had not. Of the patients who had drank, 48% had sustained serious head injuries while only 2% of the non-drinkers had the same type of injury.
Injuries among drinkers, then, are not only more frequent, but they may also be even more dangerous.
Aggression & Violence
For some, alcohol can increase feelings of aggression and, consequently, may lead to more interpersonal violence.
And in fact, this phenomenon is actually backed up by hard science. One study published by the NIAAA asked participants to deliver electric shocks to an unseen (and fake, unbeknownst to the patient) opponent during a competitive task. Patients who consumed alcohol beforehand were far more likely to deliver such shocks than sober ones.
Another researcher analyzed a variety of studies and found that up to 86% of homicide offenders, 37% of assault offenders, up to 57% of men and 27% of women involved in marital violence, and 13% of child abusers had all been drinking at the time of the offense.
The culprit here is the way that alcohol causes disinhibition. Impulsive behaviors are no longer restrained, social cues and intentions are misjudged, and a narrowing of attention can all lead a drinker to act far more aggressively than normal.
Assault & Sexuality
Sexual assault and unsafe sex are two more dangerous side effects of drinking too much alcohol.
According to the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Johns Hopkins:
- In a sample of 1,472 first-year undergraduate males, 75% of sexual assault perpetrators drank alcohol before their most recent incident. Binge drinking predicted alcohol-involved sexual assault, and alcohol-related assaults were more severe than those assaults that did not involve alcohol.
- In 2013, 1 in 10 (11.4%) current high school drinkers, and 1 in 8 (13.6%) high school binge drinkers reported being physically forced to have sexual intercourse. Drinkers are more than twice as likely to report this as non-drinkers.
- Forty-seven percent of undergraduate students who were raped or sexually assaulted thought their attacker was under the effect of alcohol/drugs.
- In 2001, an estimated 97,000 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 were sexually assaulted or date raped by another drinking college student.
- Women who drink six or more standard drinks per day are more likely to be victims of sexual assault. Additionally, the risk of sexual assault increases as women increase the number of drinks per day.
- Underage undergraduates were 23% less likely to use a condom during sexual intercourse when they were drunk.
- Young adult drinkers are twice as likely as non-drinkers to have had a sexually transmitted disease during the past year. Heavy drinking males are almost four times as likely, and heavy drinking females are three and a half times as likely.
Finally, alcohol consumption leads to an enormous economic burden. One of the biggest drains on the economy comes from how overindulging can impact workplace productivity. But other costs that come into play too are healthcare costs, criminal justice expenses, and motor vehicle crashes.
Below are a few stats from the CDC to put the financial costs of drinking into perspective.
- The cost of excessive alcohol use in the US was $249 billion in 2010 or about $2.05 per drink.
- The economic cost of drinking is around $807 per person.
- 77% of these costs were due to binge drinking in particular. 1 in 6 Americans binge drink.
- 72% of the total costs were due to lost workplace productivity.
- 11% were due to health care expenses.
- 10% were due to criminal justice expenses.
- 5% were due to motor vehicle crashes.
What Needs To Change?
As a collective society, consuming too much alcohol can have devastating consequences – that much is clear. So, the question is, how can we reduce the amount of alcohol that we drink?
Unfortunately, studies like these often aren’t enough for individuals to limit their own drinking habits. They may read the news and think about how they should change, but in most cases, drinking has become so ingrained that they’ll often return to old habits soon after.
While it’s unfortunate that such information isn’t effective at changing the minds of the people at large, there is one crucial benefit here – it can influence public policy. And changing the laws behind alcohol is without a doubt the single best way of influencing how much people are drinking.
There are four major methods of influencing drinking behaviors with legislature: increasing taxes, using minimum unit pricing, creating and enforcing marketing regulations, and reducing physical availability.
- Taxes – One of the most effective ways of cutting down on alcohol use among large populations is increasing taxes. It’s Economics 101 – the higher the price for an item, the less likely someone is going to be to pay for it. In fact, studies have shown that every 10% increase in alcohol price results in about a 5% decrease in its consumption.
When it comes to alcohol taxes in particular, there are two separate types: sales taxes and excise taxes.
Sales taxes we’re all familiar with. A flat percentage is applied to specific items like alcohol, typically on top of taxes already applied to the product. For items like alcohol and tobacco, sales taxes are typically higher than other products (e.g., 9% instead of 6%).
Excise taxes, on the other hand, are based on quantity rather than on the product itself. For example, the excise tax for alcohol in Washington is $0.87/gallon for wine, $0.26/gallon for beer, and $14.27/gallon for liquor. Excise taxes are also imposed on the federal level too.
- Minimum Unit Pricing – In order to reduce the most destructive forms of alcoholism, lawmakers need to target the cheapest and strongest forms of alcohol. And one of the best ways of doing so is by implementing what’s known as minimum unit pricing.
This strategy designates a minimum price of which an establishment is able to sell a “unit” of alcohol for. In some countries, this unit is a volumetric measure like a liter or gallon. In others, it’s based on the alcohol content of the drink itself – it’s alcohol by volume or ABV.
Canada is one such country that uses the minimum unit pricing model. And studies have shown that this approach to curbing alcohol consumption has been an enormous success. A 10% increase in average minimum prices, one study points out, is associated with an 8% decrease in per capita alcohol consumption and a 9% decrease in rates of hospitalization stemming from alcohol-related diseases.
Countries like Russia, Ukraine, and most recently Scotland have also already started using a minimum unit pricing model.
- Marketing Regulations – Advertisements have a powerful effect on us, even if we don’t recognize that it’s even happening. Limiting the marketing power of alcohol brands, then, is thought to be one method for cutting down on rates of alcoholism and the detrimental effects of this disease.
And the science seems to back up this approach too. One review of longitudinal studies found that “exposure to media and commercial communications on alcohol is associated with the likelihood that adolescents will start to drink alcohol” – a powerful risk factor for predicting later problematic drinking. On top of that, such advertisements were also found to promote “increased drinking amongst baseline drinkers” too.
Regulating where and how often these advertisements appear, then, can be an effective way of cutting down on exposure and, ideally, lowering rates of problematic drinking.
- Physical Availability – Last but not least, legislators can also regulate alcohol consumption by limiting the physical availability of these products. There are a couple of ways of doing so.
First (and most recognizably) there is the age limit. All U.S. states have an age limit required for the purchase of alcohol – 21 years. While it doesn’t stop all minors from drinking (and in fact drinking in college as a minor is almost expected these days), it does stand as one of the most steadfast barriers to underage alcohol consumption.
There are also restricted hours and days of alcohol sales in certain states and towns. Some villages may, for instance, have a local law that prohibits the sale of alcohol on Sundays or after midnight. This, of course, helps limit availability even further.
Lastly, retail sale of alcohol is also subject to strict measures as well. Whether it be limiting the hours that bars can stay open or designating that liquor can only be sold in specialized stores, there are plenty of options here to make it harder for people to get their hands on more booze.
Tightening regulations surrounding any of these limits can help reduce the negative outcomes associated with drinking.
Alcohol: More Dangerous Than We Thought
This new study is an important step towards recognizing the true costs of alcohol – from the devastating effects it can have on the essential organs of the body to the far-reaching impacts it has on society as a whole.
And still, moderation rather than abstinence still remains the most reasonable method of staving off these dangers. As James Hamblin put it in The Atlantic:
Even taken at the global scale, the harm associated with a single daily serving of alcohol was tiny—almost zero. So not everyone need worry. It’s difficult to think of anything in life that’s without risk, especially recreational activities.
However, this study serves as a sobering reminder that even though there are some (minor) health benefits to drinking, the majority of the effects are in fact problematic.
In the end, there’s much more at stake at the bottom of the bottle than we knew. And that means we’ve got to get serious about tackling our country’s – and our world’s – drinking problem.