No Amount of Alcohol Is Safe: The Debate Goes On

Brandon Cohen

Disclosures

September 14, 2018

Is that single glass of wine bad for you? For years, many have taken comfort in the notion that moderate drinking is benign, but a recent study published in the Lancet described the ill effects of alcohol consumption.

Perhaps most alarmingly for some, the study indicated that even very small amounts of alcohol still had some negative effects. The authors of the study called for greater alacrity in the fight against the evils of demon rum. This led to spirited debate among healthcare professionals in the comments.

The pushback began right away, with many finding problems with the implications of the study.

One professional started the wave:

Prohibition, here we go again. Regulating or taxing supply will only lead to home brewing and distilling and more binge drinking. Did we learn nothing from history?

Others found the study itself hysterical and alarmist. One pharmacist wrote:

It doesn't seem like enough of a cross-section to extrapolate this dramatic conclusion [that alcohol is the biggest health issue today]. What about clean water, adequate food supplies, and getting health practitioners and medical supplies everywhere they are needed? I think those are...the dominant health issues.

Another physician tried to sort through the data:

Those who actually bother to read the paper can see that the increase in risk moving from zero to one, or even two, drinks per day is smaller than negligible. The hype is risible.

Many agreed that the increased risk for disease (0.5 %) associated with very low alcohol intake did not warrant any significant changes in lifestyle. A registered nurse declared:

I will continue to enjoy my occasional single malt whisky. Life is meant to be savored and so is a lovely dram of whisky.

A dentist went even further and saw a shorter, boozier life as a valid choice:

The fact is that some people may prefer quality over quantity of life. Policy makers do not know what drives some drinkers to abuse...sometimes a numb mind may be better than an acute mind. Advise people of the risks and let them lead their own lives.

And another healthcare professional found it all pretty unconvincing:

I have no doubt that these researchers are well-meaning, but every other week we are warned that this or that is now considered dangerous to eat or drink, only to discover later that not only is it not dangerous, it's actually good for us.

But there were many who applauded the new information and had no fears of where this might take us. One healthcare professional found the objections of colleagues amusing:

I laugh at all the desperate alcoholics here posting, trying to dismiss these scientific findings. Just accept that alcohol kills way quicker than just living. It is a toxic substance.

An addiction specialist also questioned those who had problems with the new findings:

I can tell you that those of you arguing against this research do sound suspiciously like the patients I see every day who try to convince me why their use is not really a problem.

A wry professional continued this thread and lampooned those who opposed the study:

I don't like its findings, therefore I think the researchers are bad. We thought that way once when research produced evidence to suggest the earth revolves around the sun.

A nurse saw a strong moral component in this issue and seemed to suggest that there was a place for greater societal action:

It strikes me that the emphasis to push alcohol on the weak at great expense to their lifestyles and their family's health is wrong. Yes, people will drink, but advertising it as a healthy choice is incorrect.

A surgeon took an international view: "There should be an increase in global awareness about alcohol consumption, especially in Africa."

A primary care physician did not dispute the findings but doubted that they would have an effect on real-world behavior:

Our patients will never accept these results; they will drink alcohol more and more as a way to feel better and to be free from their life issues.

Another primary care physician concurred:

At some point, science risks losing touch with real life. The best way to avoid dying is to not live. Changing lifestyle for better health-outcomes starts with realistic targets.

An orthopedic surgeon advised moderation in handling the issue with the public:

If I am counseling a patient, I say no use is good, but be responsible... Millions, if not billions, take a sip of spirits daily without issue.

The final word goes to the voice at the bar:

I will raise my glass (or two) of wine every evening as a salute to this article.

The full article can be found on Medscape.

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