I am not a proponent of prohibition; I advocate free will and knowing the truth. Our children deserve to understand the facts about alcohol to make an educated decision whether or not they drink it when they are adults. I was ignorant about alcohol, and they don’t have to be. Their choice to drink can be informed, mindful, and made with intent. Exactly the way it would be if they choose to smoke a cigarette.
Despite solid global evidence that no amount of alcohol is safe, why are we still recommending daily moderation of alcohol, a highly addictive substance?
“No Level of Alcohol Consumption Improves Health,” published in The Lancet (Sept 2018), reports the findings from the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries and Risk Factors Study (GBD) 2016 - the most comprehensive estimate of the global burden of alcohol use to date. The article states, “The conclusions are clear and unambiguous: Alcohol is a colossal global health issue. Small reductions in health-related harms at low levels of alcohol intake are outweighed by the increased risk of many other health-related harms, including cancer.” The study unequivocally concludes, "the safest level of drinking is none.”
If drinking wine for heart health is like eating Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups for the protein, I think I’ll stick with blueberries for my antioxidants - thanks.
Last year, the American Cancer Society issued a new, more vital directive on alcohol use, recommending that "it's best not to drink alcohol" to update its Guideline for Diet and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention. However, in contradiction, it also retained its original recommendation that men limit their daily intake to two drinks and women to one drink. WHY?
What is unsuitable about advising the general population that it’s best not to drink alcohol, period? We never hear someone say, “it’s best not to smoke, but if you do, only one or two cigarettes a day, alright?”
Diluted messaging doesn't help keep the masses healthy; it keeps us confused and drinking more alcohol. If my Dr recommends it, how bad can it be? If one is okay, then two must be fine as well. The outdated moderation message is left open to a lot of interpretation, and I don’t know about you, but I have never measured a 5-ounce glass of Chardonnay in my life.
Excessive drinking is draining the US economy, with the CDC reporting annual costs reaching $249 billion in 2010. I can’t even imagine what that estimate is today. We know that alcohol directly influences the stomach, brain, heart, gallbladder, and liver. It affects levels of lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides) and insulin in the blood and inflammation and coagulation. It also alters our hormones, mood, sleep cycles, concentration, coordination, and memory.
The tired moderation message isn't working. Why are we protecting alcohol instead of the health of the masses in 2021?
We have collected strong scientific evidence that alcohol consumption increases our risk for getting cancer – including cancer of the oral cavity, esophagus, larynx, pharynx, liver, stomach, and particularly in the colon and female breast.
Dr. Noelle LoConte, an oncologist and associate professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin, told NPR in June, "We're not proponents of complete abstinence. There probably is an amount of drinking that's OK." LoConte said. "But from a cancer-prevention standpoint, drinking the least amount of alcohol possible would be the best strategy."
Muddied messaging doesn't keep the masses healthy; it keeps us confused and drinking more alcohol. There is probably an amount of cocaine that is OK for us to ingest too. Just because alcohol is legal doesn’t make it any less lethal. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol kills more people than all other drugs combined. It is the third leading preventable cause of death in the US.
Just this past week, Covid-19 deaths rose to a staggering 3 million worldwide. Coincidently, the World Health Organization declares that three million premature deaths result from harmful alcohol use every year. Despite this horrific death toll year after year, we continue to recommend consuming this highly addictive substance in moderation.
Why are we still endorsing any use of a highly addictive substance with zero nutritional value in 2021? It’s like handing over a loaded gun to the general public and advising not to pull the trigger. “Here you go, Bob, now don’t get addicted!”
The current warning labels on alcohol haven’t been changed or updated since 1988.
In light of robust scientific evidence that no amount of alcohol is safe and that alcohol increases our risk for cancer, the dusty labels have remained the same. WHY? Why haven’t they been updated or revised in the last 33 years?
In Medscape's (Feb 2021) article, LoConte mentions that "the messaging around alcohol is different from smoking cigarettes; it is nuanced." She explains, “alcohol is linked to seven different kinds of cancer, but not all cancers and the cancer-causing mechanisms are different across these various types." LoConte goes on to recommend that "alcohol should be used in moderation” and adds that “doctors right now are burned out, overworked, and stressed. Alcohol is a coping skill."
If our doctors use alcohol as a coping mechanism, won’t they be less likely to recommend that we abstain from drinking? Subconsciously, wouldn’t they be more likely to protect the porous data that touts a less than stellar health benefit and suggest that we moderate? Maybe it’s not the science that keeps the messaging nuanced; perhaps it’s because our medical community is in denial about their own alcohol use. After all, our doctors and nurses are humans too.
It wasn’t that long ago that we were recommending smoking cigarettes for the treatment of asthma. From the 1930s to the 1950s, physicians lit up the pages of cigarette advertisements. Cigarettes, tested and approved by our providing communities, were recommended like medicine, prescribed in daily moderation, of course.
Statistics that are coming out now are especially alarming in women—cases of alcohol-related liver disease are up as much as 30 percent over last year in young women. Women are the fastest-growing population of alcohol users in the United States right now. Mommy Wine Culture dominates social media, despite the scientific data from the Institute of Alcohol Studies (2017) that plainly states that drinking even one alcoholic drink a day increases a woman's risk of getting breast cancer. Women who drink 2-3 alcoholic beverages per day had a 20 percent higher risk of breast cancer than women who didn’t drink alcohol. How does our Mommy Juice taste now, ladies?
Why are we protecting a substance we know increases our breast cancer risk and still recommending daily moderation?
Most of us can agree that we have a mental health crisis happening in our country. We can’t possibly begin an honest conversation about mental health without addressing our voracious alcohol consumption because we know that the two are inextricably linked.
Alcohol use can significantly impact a person’s mental health and make symptoms of an existing condition worse. Daily drinking interferes with chemicals in the brain that are vital for good mental health. So while we might feel better immediately after having a drink, in the long run, it can exacerbate feelings of anxiety and depression (just to name a few) and make stress even harder to manage.
We also know that using alcohol to cope with complicated feelings or problems can create more problems. If we use alcohol to cope with stress and worry, we miss developing healthy coping skills. The next time we face a challenge, we may feel more overwhelmed and more likely to turn to a drink for relief. Two drinks a day for men and one for women, is that right?
We are drinking more alcohol today than ever before, and rates have been on the rise for two decades. Most American's are not even aware that alcohol is a drug, and less than half are aware that it is a Group 1 carcinogen, the same as Tobacco.
The warning labels on alcohol and the messaging in our doctor’s office must catch up to our scientific evidence. I would argue that today, there is no ethical reason to recommend drinking alcohol in any amount to any person.
Three cancer organizations, including The American Society of Clinical Oncology; The American Institute for Cancer Research; and Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, are currently trying to get legislation passed to label alcohol with proper, up-to-date health warnings. The proposal, outlined in a Citizen Petition, has been issued to the Treasury Departments Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Trade Bureau. The new wording will read:
"Warning: According to the Surgeon General, consumption of alcoholic beverages can cause cancer, including breast and colon cancers."
I fully support this concise, un-nuanced warning label on every alcoholic beverage in bold lettering. After that, if we choose to drink it (including our medical community), it's our own free will to do so, no different than tobacco.
Stop hiding the science that we have worked so hard to gather and stop protecting alcohol instead of the health of the masses. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. put it, “The day we see the truth and cease to speak is the day we begin to die.”
In 2021, it’s time we speak the truth about alcohol.