Alcohol: Keeping the Public in the Dark
Scientific medical research conducted around the world has made
it clear that the moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages (beer,
spirits, and wine) is associated with better health and greater
longevity than abstaining or drinking heavily. 1
As reported in The New York Times, “A drink or two of wine,
beer, or liquor is, experts say, often the best nonprescription
way to prevent heart attacks -- better than a low-fat diet or weight
loss, better even than vigorous exercise. Moderate drinking can
even help prevent strokes, amputated limbs and dementia.”
leading medical researcher, Dr. Curtis Ellison, emphasizes that
“the science supporting the protective role of alcohol is
indisputable, no one questions it anymore.... There have been hundreds
of studies, all consistent.” 3
In addition, moderate consumption of alcohol appears to be beneficial
to reducing or preventing even more diseases and health problems:
- Angina Pectoris 4
- Bone Fractures and Osteoporosis 5
- Diabetes 6
- Digestive Ailments 7
- Duodenal Ulcer 8
- Erectile Dysfunction (sexual impotence) 9
- Essential Tremors 10
- Gallstones 11
- Hearing Loss12
- Hepatitis A 13
- Kidney Stones 14
- Liver Disease 15
- Macular Degeneration (Blindness) 16
- Pancreatic Cancer 17
- Parkinson's Disease 18
- Poor Cognition and Memory 19
- Poor Physical Condition in Elderly 20
- Rheumatoid Arthritis 21
- Stress and Depression 22
- Type B Gastritis 23
It’s clear that abstaining from alcohol and heavy drinking
are both health risks -- they’re both associated with poorer
health and shorter life. On the other hand, moderate drinking, unless
contra-indicated, is associated with better physical and mental
health and longer life. These are medical facts many people and
groups don’t want the public to know, and they’ve been
very successful in suppressing this health-promoting knowledge.
For example, a poll conducted by the University of Michigan’s
Survey Research Center found that 80% of Americans falsely thought
the health drawbacks of alcohol consumption far outweighed the benefits.
Over half the public falsely believes that distilled spirits contain
either substantial or high cholesterol counts, although they actually
contain none. 25
And few realize that, in spite of its caloric count, alcohol doesn’t
appear to contribute to weight gain. In fact, drinking is often
associated with small weight losses in women, according to research.
In spite of the medical evidence, federal policy has long been
to reduce alcohol consumption in the United States. The National
Institute of Health funded an early study that found moderate drinkers
to be less likely to suffer heart disease, but actually refused
to let the Harvard researchers publish the results because the agency
considered them “socially undesirable.” 27
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and other
temperance-oriented special interest groups successfully lobbied
to prevent alcohol beverage labels or advertising from even suggesting
that consumers could consult their physicians or federal agencies
to learn the health consequences of drinking in moderation. The
ruling was praised by CSPI, saying “Although a blanket ban
of all health claims and health-related statements would have been
preferable, we believe the regulations effectively shut the door”
to informing the public about the healthfulness of drinking in moderation.
One scholar has pointed out that “By preventing the alcohol
industry from communicating the health benefits of its products,
anti-alcohol groups and government agencies ensure that public debate
about alcohol and public health will be dominated by anti-alcohol
groups and government agencies.” 29
It recently took Congressional action to force the National Institute
on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) to grant any funds at all
from its very large budget to investigate the health consequences
(not benefits) of moderate alcohol consumption. Apparently, NIAAA
expected that the results would be positive, so it resisted funding
such research until forced to do so.
The restricted debate is muddied by a systematic strategy of not
investigating or reporting the positive effects of moderate drinking,
of stigmatizing alcohol, and of minimizing or even misrepresenting
the facts. Although prohibitionists of old routinely made stigmatizing
statements about alcohol, all of the statements below, which are
either false or highly misleading at best, were made by officials
representing government agencies in our time:
- “Alcohol is the dirtiest drug we have. It permeates and
damages all tissues. No other drug can cause the degree of harm
- “Alcohol is harmful to the body.”
- “Alcohol is a poison, and drinking it might lead to death.”
- “Alcohol is toxic “(no level of consumption indicated).
- “The effects of alcohol on men” (no level of consumption
indicated) “are hormone levels change, causing lower sex
drive and enlarged breasts.”
- “Alcohol is a gateway drug leading people into illicit
- “Alcohol” (no level indicated) “can cause
deterioration of muscle.” 30
The effort to stigmatize alcohol includes promoting the prohibitionist
belief that there is no difference between moderate drinking and
alcohol abuse--the two are portrayed as one and the same. This leads
the U.S. Department of Education to direct schools and colleges
to reject educational programs which promote responsible drinking
among adults and instead favor a simplistic call for total abstinence.
Suppressing the facts about the benefits of moderate drinking may
lead to serious consequences. The Journal of the American Medical
Association has estimated that as many as 80,000 American deaths
could be prevented each and every year by the moderate consumption
of alcohol beverages. 32
Moderate drinking saves more lives than are lost by alcohol abuse.
Nevertheless, efforts to keep people in the dark and to reduce their
alcohol consumption continue, often under force of law.
In 44 Liquormart, Inc. v. Rhode Island, the U.S. Supreme
court overturned a state law banning offsite advertising of alcohol
prices. The goal of the law was to reduce the lawful consumption
of alcoholic beverages. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the state’s
“asserted interest is to keep legal users of a product or
service ignorant in order to manipulate their choices in the marketplace”
and that in such cases the “’interest’ is per
se illegitimate and can no more justify regulation of ‘commercial’
speech than it can justify regulation of ‘noncommercial’
Keeping people ignorant of information “for their own good”
is a dangerous paternalistic practice that reflects a distrust of
people and their ability to make informed choices. . It’s
common in totalitarian societies and dictatorships, but is totally
unacceptable in a free society.
Let the truth be heard.
- 1. Health benefits of moderate drinking
are detailed in Ford, G. The Science of Healthy Drinking.
San Francisco, CA: Wine Appreciation Guild, 2003. The book is summarized
For more on alcohol and health, visit https://www.alcoholproblemsandsolutions.org/alcohol-and-health-medical-findings
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(all together now: In moderation!). The New York Times, 12-31-02,
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