The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) is the US federal government’s lead alcohol agency. It’s 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. Unfortunately, much of the government alcohol information is erroneous or misleading
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 to the contrary. The research extends back to 1925 and is from around the world. It shows that the moderate drinking is associated with better health and longer life. That’s in comparison with 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 per day. It can be beer, distilled spirits or wine. These facts clearly discredit 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 has been offering a challenge. Specifically, $20,000 to the first person who can prove that this statistic is correct. No one has collected the money. That’s 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 causes of false BAC levels are
- Things in the driver’s mouth (such as alcohol, blood or vomit).
- Electrical interference from cell phones and police radios.
- Tobacco smoke.
- Operator error.
- Specific make of breath estimator.
- Incorrect calibration.
- Body temperature.
- Air temperature.
- Normal variations in driver’s hemocrit (cell volume of blood).
- Other 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). However, it fails to subtract the economic benefits provided by alcohol beverages. These include income to the producers of commodities and equipment used in producing alcohol beverages. They include income of those who produce, distribute and sell alcoholic beverages. They also include profits, taxes, and many other economic benefits to tens of millions of Americans
Alcohol and Youth
NIAAA states “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 does this agency really expect us to believe that
- Priests who serve alcohol to their underage parishioners in the celebration of Holy Communion are engaging in alcohol abuse?
- Jewish parents who serve alcohol to their children as part of weekly and other religious observances are promoting alcohol abuse?
- 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?
- States that explicitly permit parents to serve alcohol beverages to their children within the home are promoting alcohol abuse?
- Adults under the age of 21 around the world who drink in moderation are abusing alcohol?
Apparently, the asserts that “any alcohol use by underage youth is considered to be alcohol abuse” really means something different. Specifically 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 radica. It’s radical in historical, cross-cultural, medical, religious, and other terms. Millions of people in the US and hundreds of millions of people around the world would disagree with the NIAAA’s extremely unrealistic definition.
Much of this government alcohol information is erroneous. The 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.
1. NIAAA. Teacher’s Guide (“Information about Alcohol” section). Understanding Alcohol. Washington: NIH Curriculum Supp. Series – Grades 7-8.
2. Gunzerath, L., et al. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Report on Moderate Drinking. Alco Clin Exper Res, 2004, 28(6),
3. NIAAA, Ibid.
4. Hlastula, M. Physiological errors associated with alcohol breath tests. The Champion, 1985, 9(6). Quoted in Taylor, L. Drunk Driving Defense. New York: Aspen Law and Business, 5th edition, 2000.
5. NIAAA, Ibid.
6. NIAAA, Ibid.
Resources: Government Alcohol Information Erroneous
Remember that these readings may well contain many erroneous and deceptive information.
NIAAA. Parents’ Guide: Your Child and Alcohol Use: Talk to Your Child about Alcohol. NIAAA, 2016.
____. Fall Semester: a Time for Parents to Discuss the Risks of College Drinking. Bethesda: NIAAA, 2013.
____. Rethinking Drinking: Alcohol and Your Health. Bethesda: NIAAA, 2018.