To Drink or Not to Drink?- 4

In our continuing exploration of the issues surrounding the supposed benefits of moderate use of alcohol, let’s look at a two more important areas. 

First, what would be the outcome if alcohol were a newly discovered compound? Would the big drug companies develop and market it as a preventive for coronary heart disease?

Dr. Ira Goldberg of Columbia University in New York eloquently addressed these questions in 2003 when he wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine:

“If alcohol were a newly discovered drug…no pharmaceutical company would develop it to prevent cardiovascular disease. Nor would many physicians use a therapy that might reduce the rate of myocardial infarction by 25 to 50 percent, but that would result in thousands of additional deaths per year due to cancer, motor vehicle accidents, and liver disease. …Substituting one disease for another is not a medical advance.”

Second, could there be a clash between the alcohol industry’s desire for profits and objective evidence? Is the industry misleading the public to think the benefits of moderate drinking are very large?

Dr. Wayne Hall and his research colleague Robin Room insightfully pointed out in the Medical Journal of Australia:

“Alcohol industry advocacy groups also like to emphasize the protective health effects of alcohol consumption for older adults. These benefits have been contested, and even if they exist, they are small, at best, and much smaller than the overall harm. Any such health benefits largely accrue to middle-aged men at risk of cardiovascular disease who drink in moderation, rather than to the many more numerous young adults who drink in risky ways”

“None of this should be suprising. The alcohol industry cannot afford to reduce the risky alcohol consumption that generates most of its profits. Conservatively estimated, two thirds of all alcohol consumption in Australia (and 90% of that consumed by young men) is consumed in ways that put drinkers’ and others’ health and wellbeing at risk.”

This whole issue requires accurate data and objective thinking to weave all the various pieces into a meaningful and accurate understanding of the purported value of moderate alcohol use. 

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