By Pam Blume
Christian Action League
June 19, 2020
In the ongoing debate on the pros and cons of the health effects of moderate drinking, a recent Canadian study has found that even following suggested guidelines for alcohol consumption does not prevent alcohol related health problems. The Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs published a report, “Does Drinking Within Low-Risk Guidelines Prevent Harm? Implications for High-Income Countries Using the International Model of Alcohol Harms and Policies” from the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research, University of Victoria.
Over 50 countries use Low Risk Drinking Guidelines (LRDGs) to attempt to limit the ill effects of alcohol consumption in both episodes of intoxication and long-term harm. These guidelines vary from country to country and provide guidelines for daily and weekly consumption limits. The study notes that North American countries tend to have higher LRDGs compared to other nations. According to figures from International Alliance for Responsible Drinking, 2019, weekly maximum recommendations in France are 100 g/week for men and women, the United Kingdom 112 g/week for men and women, Germany 168 g/week for men and 84 g/week for women, and the United States 196 g/week for men and 98 g/week for women. The weekly Canadian maximum is even higher at 201.75 g of ethanol per week for men and 134.50 g per week for women.
Using death and hospital stay data for Canada and alcohol exposure data from the Canadian Substance Use Exposure Database, an estimate was made of alcohol-attributable deaths and hospital stays experienced by people drinking within LRDGs, people drinking above LRDGs, and former drinkers. The study used figures from the Canadian Substance Use Costs and Harms Scientific Working Group, 2018 and found that in 2014, alcohol was responsible for $14.6 billion (Canadian) in economic costs, 88,000 hospital stays, and nearly 15,000 deaths. It was revealed that a high percentage of hospitalizations and deaths are caused by health conditions related to the chronic use of alcohol, such as cancers, cardiovascular conditions and liver cirrhosis. The study reported that, “These findings imply that the weekly/chronic drinking guidelines may have a higher potential for health impact than do the daily/acute guidelines.”
In reporting the results of the study, it was found that, “More men (18%) than women (7%) drank above weekly guidelines. Adherence to guidelines did not eliminate alcohol-caused harm: those drinking within guidelines nonetheless experienced 140 more deaths and 3,663 more hospital stays than if they had chosen to abstain from alcohol. A weighted relative risk analysis found that, for both women and men, the risk was lowest at a consumption level of 10 g per day. For all levels of consumption, men were found to experience a higher weighted relative risk than women.”
The report concluded that, “Drinkers following weekly LRDGs are not insulated from harm. Greater than 50% of alcohol-caused cancer deaths are experienced by those drinking within weekly limits. Findings suggest that guidelines of around one drink per day may be appropriate for high-income countries.”
The study also noted that LRDGs are not called “No Risk” guidelines but “Low Risk” guidelines, since even light or moderate alcohol consumption increases the risk of negative health effects, such as cancer, heart disease and injury. The study concluded that drinkers adhering to these guideline limits were still exposed to increased hospital stays for both genders and increased mortality in men, thus suggesting a revision of high-income country LRDGs. “If national drinking guidelines are based on aligning risks between drinkers and abstainers, our study suggests limits of approximately 12 g per day for men and 17 g per day for women. A gender-neutral recommendation may be similar to that used in the Netherlands: don’t drink or, if you do, drink no more than one drink per day (International Alliance for Responsible Drinking, 2019).”