It is popularly believed that alcohol problems are a direct result of consumption levels: the higher the consumption, the more the problems. However, the experience of societies and other social groups belies this assumption. Beliefs, attitudes and norms about alcohol are very powerful in either causing or preventing problems.
Nine Western countries have generated large-scale sustained temperance movements in the 19th or 20th centuries (United States, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Finland, Sweden, Norway and Iceland) and 11 have not (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, and West Germany).
As can be seen in the chart,1 societies with a prohibitionist tradition consume much less alcohol but have much greater problems associated with that consumption.
|Prohibitionist Tradition Countries||Moderation Countries|
|Alcohol Consumption in liters per capita||8.7||14.1|
|Alcoholics Anonymous groups per million population||167.1||40.9|
|Heart Disease death rate for men aged 55-64||775||410|
Similarly, consumption rates are high among Italian, Chinese, Greek, and Jewish Americans, but the incidence of drinking among these groups is very low. On the other hand, Abstention rates among the Irish are among the very highest in the Western world, but they experience a very high rate of drinking problems both in Ireland and the United States. 2
Americans of higher socio-economic status are more likely to drink, but less likely to experience drinking problems than are those of lower socio-economic status, 3 and the southern and mountain regions of the US, with their "dry" traditions, have high levels of both abstinence and individual excess. 4
In short, higher alcohol consumption levels don't necessarily mean more drinking problems.
Filed Under: Alcohol Abuse