We’re all a bit too harsh on alcohol it would seem. Yes, it can cause some pretty serious issues like liver disease, high blood pressure and of course it can trigger violent outbursts. But some are arguing that drinking guidelines should be changed because they don’t take into account the health benefits of drinking.
The industry body, Alcohol Beverages Australia, is claiming that the guidelines for alcohol need to change to include the positive impacts of drinking. The lobby group in a submission to the National Health and Medical Research Council claimed the benefits include “a reduction in the risk of development of heart disease, reduced risk of stroke and reduced risk of diabetes.”
There are studies to support all of these claims. The University of Cambridge found moderate levels of alcohol can boost levels of good cholesterol in the blood which would have a protective effect for the heart. A Swedish and British research team found light or moderate levels of drinking would reduce the risk of an ischemic (blocked blood flow to brain) stroke and a Danish study found that moderate drinking lowered the risk of diabetes in both males and females. There are even studies that have found it could even improve brain cells.
The keyword here in all of those studies is moderate. Something that historically Australians have not been good at. The country has a binge-drinking culture with 44% of the country admitting they drink to get drunk. Drinking to get drunk – or binge drinking – is still a big problem in Australia and it means many of the health benefits of drinking do not apply to Aussies. Binge drinking may still be a problem because very few Australians can acuately correctly identify the safe number of standard drinks. In fact, 79% of Aussies believe consuming six to 10 standard drinks on a typical occasion was responsible. Want to have a guess at how wrong that is?
The current Australian guidelines state that two standard drinks per day are safe and no more than four standard drinks in a single session. For perspective that’s no more than four schooners in a single session – or two pints – which seems low. However if we stuck to those we would get all the health benefits of alcohol and none of the negative side effects.
In the US the low-risk drinking is the equivalent of 5.6 Australian standard drinks per day for men and the World Health Organisation’s definition of heavy drinking is the equivalent of six standard drinks. By those measures, the Australian guidelines do seem pretty harsh. The ABA is of the opinion that Australians attitude to drinking is changing and that the harsh guidelines are “no longer in touch with the Australian lifestyle”.
Redditors are divided on the issue with one Redditor calling on the alcohol industry to pay for the damage of their products and then see if they want to relax the guidelines to allow further consumption.
“If the alcohol industry had to pay for the damage their products cause this country, they’d be less willing to increase our consumption rates.”
A common theme on the Reddit thread was that Australia still had a problem with binge drinking and until Australians learnt to change that the guidelines needed to remain.
“Until this country conquers its drinking problem the guidelines should probably remain”
Those in favour of the guidelines refuted this saying that over-regulation had caused a binge-drinking culture.
“A lot of the culture around binge drinking in Australia is as a result of over regulation. I doubt there are many if any examples in history where restrictions like, for example the old 6pm deadline, didn’t result in a binge while you can culture.”
Changing the guidelines probably won’t change drinking habits as most people can’t even identify what the guidelines are. However, it may be time that we start looking at our brothers and sisters in Europe who have a much better relationship with alcohol than ourselves.