One more reason to be wary of alcohol health studies

alcohol health studiesFinnish researchers find – gasp – that people who abuse alcohol have higher health costs

The Wine Curmudgeon, long suspicious of alcohol health studies, is not surprised by one of the latest, which links alcoholism with higher health costs. What is surprising is the headline on the news release: “Researchers put a price tag on alcohol use” – which, of course, has absolutely nothing to do with the study.

First and foremost, let me remind everyone I know first-hand the horrors of alcoholism and abuse. A friend died from them; two more are long-time members of abuse support groups. So I am not making light of alcoholism or saying it isn’t a problem.

Rather, it’s to note, once again, that there is a difference between alcohol abuse and moderate drinking, and which is something that has apparently been shunted aside in the rash of “all drinking is evil” studies we’ve seen over the past couple of years. Drinking is not cigarette smoking, no matter what one study claimed, and drinking wine in moderation is no worse, and may even be more healthy, than regularly eating nitrate-laced supermarket hot dogs. Which, of course, no one has yet done a study about.

This effort, on the other hand, was reaffirming the obvious. Finnish researchers, using what they called a “novel” methodology, say it costs an additional €26,000 (around US$30,000) over five years to treat patients with multiple alcohol abuse factors, such such as homelessness and drug abuse. It also recommends that people with alcohol use disorders should get better treatment for their non-alcohol related conditions.

Which is all well and good, but hardly unusual. So how did the release that ended up in my inbox carry that headline? After reading it, one expects to find the social and health costs of all drinking, moderate and abusive, listed. Which aren’t there and wasn’t the study’s intention.

Maybe the reason is as simple as the headline on the Finnish study being badly translated into English. Maybe it’s nothing more than more bad marketing and public relations work, each of which as gotten progressively worse over the past several years as agencies cut back on employees and training.

And maybe it’s part and parcel of positioning all such studies as being about drinking and doom, and working on the gullibility of newspapers, websites, and the like where the bosses are more concerned with their bonuses than with quality journalism.

I assume it’s one of the first two, and probably the second. I’m terrified it’s the third.

3 thoughts on “One more reason to be wary of alcohol health studies

  • By Keith Marton, MD -

    I have been following (and speaking and writing about) the health effects of all levels of alcohol consumption for over 30 years. One pattern that has been clear is the cyclical emergence of what can be called the “temperance movement” . These movements focus on the deleterious effects of excessive alcohol consumption and routinely fail to acknowledge the beneficial effects of moderate consumption. The last one generated the federal warning on alcoholic beverages. The one before resulted in the failed prohibition experiment .
    It would appear , based on this and other medical articles, that we are entering another such period. At times like this, it bears repeating this wisdom: There is danger in consuming too much alcohol. Then again, there is also danger in consuming too little alcohol.

    • By Wine Curmudgeon -

      Thanks for the comment. That’s the point I’ve been trying to make for as long as I have written about this subject on the blog.

  • By Dan Berger -

    Hi, Keith:
    It was the late Dr. David Musto of Yale University who spoke at a wine conference we both attended about 20 years ago who had a study showing neo-Prohibition movements occur roughly once every 60 years. You have been one of the most persistent voices of reason in this subject area coming out of there medical community over the decades, for which I thank you! I’d love to reconnect!

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