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Competing Studies Question American Alcohol Consumption

August 17, 2017 – A recent report published in JAMA Psychiatry claimed a huge increase in alcohol consumption to the point where more than one out of every eight Americans are considered alcoholics.  They say alcoholism has risen 49 percent in just 11 years.  JAMA stands for Journal of the American Medical Association.

However, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) questioned the findings published in JAMA Psychiatry.  Since they are an industry body, they can’t be trusted, right?  As it happens DISCUS is quoting findings of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the federal government’s leading survey that tracks substance use disorders. This national survey of approximately 67,500 Americans aged 12 and older has been conducted annually since in 1971 and it shows a decline in alcohol use disorders in all age groups since 2002 through to 2015, the latest year results have been published. See Graph Below.

So what’s a guilt-ridden drinker to do?  As Mark Twain famously said, “There are lies, damned lies and statistics.” 

A few days after the JAMA Psychiatry report, the Journal of the American College of Cardiology published a study of over 333,000 U.S. adults concluding that moderate alcohol consumption was associated with a 21 percent and 34 percent decreased risk of cardiovascular disease mortality and a 13 percent and 25 percent decreased risk of all-cause mortality, respectively, in both men and women.  Similar findings were observed for light drinking among men and women.  Whew! 

The researchers found, “the protective effect of light-to-moderate alcohol consumption was more pronounced in women, middle-aged and older populations.”

The researchers divided alcohol consumption patterns into six categories: lifetime abstainers, lifetime infrequent drinkers, former drinkers and current light (less than three drinks per week), moderate (more than three drinks per week to less than 14 drinks per week for men or less than seven drinks per week for women) or heavy drinkers (more than 14 drinks per week for men or seven drinks per week for women).

The study findings did not differentiate between beer, wine and spirits and the researchers noted that previous studies showed that “all alcoholic drinks at moderate level were associated with lower risk of heart disease, suggesting a major benefit is from ethanol rather than other components of each type of drink.”

The study concluded that light and moderate alcohol intake might have a protective effect on all-cause and cardiovascular disease-specific mortality in U.S. adults. Heavy or binge drinking was associated with increased risk of all-cause and cancer-specific mortality.

Once again, the old saw “moderation in all things” is a winner.

Dr. Sam Zakhari, Senior Vice President of Science for the Distilled Spirits Council stated, “This study adds to the large body of science on the potential health benefits of moderate consumption of alcohol.  Importantly, the authors make clear, light-to-moderate drinking might be protective, but heavy drinking has serious health consequences.”

As a responsible industry body, the Distilled Spirits Council does not recommend that people drink alcohol to obtain potential health benefits and has always encouraged those adults who choose to drink to do so responsibly and in moderation.  Even drinking in moderation may pose health risks to some people and some individuals should not drink at all.

© Distilled Spirits Council of the United States