There are two big myths out there, perpetuated by the alcohol industry:

One is that “Consuming alcohol is normal, common, healthy and very responsible…”; and the other, related one is that ”The damage done by alcohol is caused by a small group of alcoholics who cannot handle alcohol…”, according to the marketing messages and the overall communication of Big Alcohol.

And of course our permissive and self-righteous alcohol culture indulges in those two myths only too gladly and thankfully.

There is loads of evidence that clearly shows both messages are myths that serve to normalise alcohol use, mislead the user and disable social control, in order to drive ever more consumption:

  1. The IOGT International workshop material “Busting the myths. What Big Alcohol is not telling you” which is based on the EUCAM report “7 key messages“.
  2. Our booklet “Profit Over Human Rights – Big Alcohol Out Of Context In Public Health Policy Making” that summarises a lot of evidence on Big Alcohol tactics.

As a matter of fact, the global alcohol industry giants earn most of their profits from ordinary, everyday people who use alcohol in higher levels than the “recommended units”. They are no social deviants, homeless losers or outlaws – as the alcohol industry likes to portray alcohol addicts (see their second myth above), to marginalize and isolate them as the only ones who suffer from alcohol’s harm.

Obviously Big Alcohol has an economic interest in perpetuating those myths.

And that’s why I am always excited to read more independent research dispelling those myths. The latest one comes from Australia today:

New research finds that over half (51.6%) of all alcohol users in Down Under consume alcohol in excess of the country’s guidelines.

Produced by the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research (CAPR) the research analysed the 2010 National Drug Strategy Household Survey to identify how many Australian alcohol users consume in excess of the National Health and Medical Research Council’s “Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol”.

The study entitled “Over the limit: A profile of Australians who drink in excess of the recommended guidelines” also found that 25.9% of alcohol users consumed alcohol in excess of guideline one, consuming more than two standard drinks per day. Almost half (49%) of Australian users consumed alcohol in excess of guideline two, consuming more than four standard drinks on a single occasion more than once in the previous year, with 40% doing so at least monthly.

A separate CAPR research paper adds further weight to the study by finding that almost one in six (15.8%) Australian alcohol users consume more than eleven drinks per occasion on a monthly basis. This study is called: “Measuring risky drinking: An examination of the validity of different episodic drinking thresholds in predicting alcohol-related harms”. 

Big Alcohol promotes alcohol use in that form through marketing practices as well as through the pricing of their products. I think it is time that decision-makers step up to protect the public from alcohol harm that comes along with the usage of alcohol.

Research also shows that there is no safe amount of alcohol consumption, since alcohol causes cancer and other chronic diseases and health conditions. I think it is high time to start questioning the very existence of recommendation of levels of alcohol use.

  1. They do not work because the alcohol industry undermines them and promotes an excessive culture of alcohol use. They do this because it’s the engine to their profits.
  2. The recommendations are not evidence based. Governments and authorities should not recommend anything that is carcinogenic, teratogenic and addictive and causes so much suffering on others than the user him/ herself.
  3. Obviously Australians are not getting it right when it comes to following the guidelines. Who counts unites or levels and remembers a government recommendation for alcohol, when watching the best football match ever or when dancing at a party? No one else in the world gets these recommendations.

Alcohol use is not healthy and it is not responsible – and the latest Australian findings show this unmistakably. There’s also a vast group of people in many – especially developed – societies around the world that is at real risk of developing health conditions and diseases due to their alcohol use.

I think it is obvious what all this means in times of dire states of health services and public budgets: prevention of alcohol, through policy measures that regulate the alcohol industry and that decrease availability, ban advertising and decrease affordability of alcohol, along with what I think is crucial, too – the creation of more alcohol free environments. There’s a richer and freer life in places where alcohol is not omnipresent. And freedom and prosperity we cannot have too much of.

For further reading:

Herald Sun article: Australian drinkers defying health guidelines, Centre for Alcohol Research finds

Workshop material by IOGT International: “Busting the myths. What Big Alcohol is not telling you”

EUCAM report: 7 Key Messages

Over the limit: A profile of Australians who drink in excess of the recommended guidelines“, by Rebecca Mathews Sarah Callinan

Measuring risky drinking: An examination of the validity of different episodic drinking thresholds in predicting alcohol-related harms“, by Dr Michael Livingston, August 2013

The Guardian article: “There is no such thing as a safe level of alcohol consumption. The idea that drinking small amounts of alcohol will do you no harm is a myth, claims Professor David Nutt”

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