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To Drink or Not to Drink? - 1

The barrage of media attention to the purported benefits of moderate alcohol consumption continues uninterrupted. The current "balanced" view of alcohol use can be summarized as follows:

  • Heavy drinkers should drink less or not at all.  
  • Light to moderate drinkers should not be encouraged to change their drinking habits for health reasons.
  • Abstainers should not be indiscriminately encouraged to begin drinking for their health.

Before we discuss the health issues further, we need to take at look at the real costs of alcohol to society as a whole. More than half of all persons convicted for violent crimes in the US were under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the crime! One-half to two-thirds of homicides and serious assaults are alcohol related. Problems drinkers miss days at work due to hangovers and some go to work under the influence, compromising their effectiveness and safety. (Ref: Peele & Brodsky, Drug & Alcohol Dependence, 2000)

Problem drinkers average four times as many days in the hospital as non-drinkers; forty percent of all hospitalized patients are treated for alcohol related problems. (Ref: Institute for Health Policy, Substance Abuse, 1993)

Domestic violence and child abuse are much more prevalent in homes where a problem drinker lives. At least one-fifth of Americans say drinking is a cause of family trouble, and one-third of all separated and divorced women were married at one time to a problem drinker. (Ref: Institute for Health Policy, Substance Abuse, 1993)

Unfortunately, it is the children that bear the greatest brunt of alcohol related issues. If there is a problem drinker in the home, the children are more likely to have emotional and adjustment problems, miss days of school, are sick more often, and become problem drinkers themselves (especially boys) as adults. (Ref: Institute for Health Policy, Substance Abuse, 1993)

The bottom line: Alcohol is the third leading preventable cause of death in the US, and annually kills over 100,000 Americans. The economic costs for alcohol related social, legal, and health problems are a staggering $185 billion per year!

With all these facts in mind, why do we hear so much about it benefits today? In the future we will review some of this evidence and seek to make sense from this apparent conflict.

(This article is part of a continuing series on alcohol. View: Next>)