by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) is the US federal government’s lead agency responsible for providing alcohol information to the American public. Because it speaks with federal authority it is essential that its information be clear and accurate.
Alcohol and Health
The NIAAA’s Teacher’s Guide for its seven and eighth grade alcohol curriculum asserts as a misconception the fact that alcohol is good for health. 1 This, in spite of the fact that medical research extending back to 1925 has repeatedly demonstrated that the moderate consumption of alcohol is associated with better health and greater longevity than is abstaining from alcohol. An analysis made by NIAAA’s own scientists of the medical research concluded that the lowest death rate occurs among those who consume one to two alcoholic drinks (beer, distilled spirits or wine) per day, thus discrediting the assertion in the agency’s Teacher’s Guide. 2
Drinking and Driving
The NIAAA incorrectly asserts that traffic fatalities attributable to drinking claim about 15,000 lives annually in the US. Not so. In fact, the National Motorists Association, along with others, has been offering $20,000 to the first person who can prove that this statistic is correct. No one has collected the money because the statistic is clearly false and totally lacking in factual support.
Alcohol and Breathalyzers
The NIAAA states that the Breathalyzer measures blood alcohol concentration (BAC), although it only estimates BAC. 3 The only way that BAC can be measured is by testing a sample of a person’s blood. That’s why not all states even permit the use of Breathalyzer or other breath analyzer estimates.
Blood samples can’t be manipulated, as can breath samples. For example, hyperventilating can dramatically reduce a Breathalyzer reading, giving a false result. Many other things can lead to falsely high Breathalyzer readings. They include compounds found in lacquers, paint removers, celluloid, gasoline, and cleaning fluids. Other common things that can cause false BAC levels are things in the subject's mouth (such as alcohol, blood or vomit), electrical interference from cell phones and police radios, tobacco smoke, dirt, moisture, operator error, the specific make of breath tester, incorrectly calibrated breath testers, body temperature, ambient or surrounding temperature, variations in subjects’ hemocrit (cell volume of blood), and physiological differences.
Not surprisingly, one expert has asserted that:
Breath testing, as currently used, is a very inaccurate method for measuring BAC. Even if the breath testing instrument is working perfectly, physiological variables prevent early reasonable accuracy....Breath testing for alcohol using a single test instrument, should not be used for scientific, medical or legal purposes where accuracy is important. 4
Breathalyzers clearly don’t measure, they only estimate, BAC. For more, visit Alcohol Breath Analyzer Accuracy .
Economic Costs of Alcohol Abuse
The NIAAA presents a clearly deceptive and misleading picture of the economic costs of alcohol abuse. Its estimate is actually of gross costs rather than net costs. 5 That is, the NIAAA statistic adds up all costs (including large “phantom” or false costs) without subtracting the economic benefits provided by alcohol beverages. These include income to the producers of commodities and equipment used in producing alcohol beverages, income of those who produce, distribute and sell alcoholic beverages, profits, taxes generated, and many other economic benefits to tens of millions of Americans.
Alcohol and Youth
The NIAAA states unequivocally that “it is important to note that any alcohol use by underage youth is considered to be alcohol abuse.” 6 For emphasis, the agency re-states and then even highlights its assertion, but is it correct?
- Does the NIAAA actually believe that priests who serve alcohol to their underage parishioners in the celebration of Holy Communion are engaging in alcohol abuse?
- Does the NIAAA believe that Jewish parents who serve alcohol to their children as part of weekly and other religious observances are promoting alcohol abuse?
- Does the NIAAA believe that physicians who prescribe alcohol to their underage patients are really prescribing alcohol abuse? And are the parents who follow their doctors’ orders causing alcohol abuse?
- Does the NIAAA believe that those states across the US that explicitly permit parents to serve alcohol beverages to their own children of any age within the home are actually permitting alcohol abuse?
- Does the NIAAA believe that adults under the age of 21 around the world who drink in moderation are abusing alcohol?
Apparently, when the NIAAA asserts that “any alcohol use by underage youth is considered to be alcohol abuse” it really means that “any alcohol use by underage youth is considered by the NIAAA to be alcohol abuse.” The NIAAA’s definition of alcohol abuse among young people is radical in historical, cross-cultural, medical, religious, and other terms. It’s obvious that millions of people in the US and hundreds of millions of people around the world would disagree with the NIAAA’s extremely unrealistic definition.
NIAAA’s Teacher’s Guide is full of other errors, omissions, and misleading assertions too numerous to describe here. Both the American public and our children deserve much better.