“Alcohol’s health benefits hard to prove, but harms are easy to document,” proclaims an article that first appeared on the website The Conversation (“Academic rigor, journalistic flair”). The Associated Press picked it up and gave it much broader reach. Author Christina Mair from the University of Pittsburgh asked whether Americans’ “comfort with and acceptance of alcohol” should be as high as it is.
Mair never directly answers the question, but implicitly she suggests: probably not. Why not? Two principal reasons. First, the purported health benefits of moderate drinking, including lower risk of cardiovascular disease, remain an “open question,” in her analysis. More importantly, “there are more alcohol-attributable deaths and a myriad of physical and social problems related to drinking, even at low levels, than any other substance.” A third theme: “Backed by a strong industry, alcohol’s dangers may be underplayed and its benefits exaggerated.” Mair’s article details those dangers and problems. Among them:
- Alcohol is involved with more deaths and problems than the much-discussed opioid epidemic.
- “Alcohol is the third leading cause of premature mortality in the US.”
- Drinking, “even at low levels,” is associated with “a number of cancers.”
- Alcohol “causes” many violence-related harms: child maltreatment, intimate partner violence, sexual assault, gun violence.
- “Safe” levels of drinking have “likely been overestimated for the majority of drinkers,” since many harms have been linked to drinking levels “as low as three drinks a week.”
- Alcohol-related harms tend to impact “the most vulnerable among us,” i.e. African American and Hispanic drinkers.
- “Sexual and gender minority adolescents start drinking at younger ages and continue to binge drink more frequently as adults.”