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Hackett: Problems with new alcohol guidance

I enjoy going out for a beer or two with friends.

I enjoy going out for a beer or two with friends.

After hockey, on a patio or at a barbecue in the summer, having a drink to mark an occasion or just to simply quench some thirst is an all-too-common experience in the modern-day, North American world.

I try to drink less than I did a few years ago, a product of chasing away some personal demons and simply not being able to rebound as quickly as I did in my 20s.

All this is to say, a recent study by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction piqued my interest. And also scared the heck out of me.

They helped produce Canada’s new Guidance on Alcohol and Health and it contains some startling recommendations, at least for me anyway.

Basically, if you have two or less standard drinks per week, you are likely to avoid alcohol-related consequences. If you have more than seven standard drinks, your risk of heart disease or stroke increases significantly.

Significantly is a pretty subjective word. In this context, it carries a pretty loaded, worrisome connotation.

“Each additional standard drink radically increases the risk of alcohol-related consequences,” the summary of the report reads.

There’s another loaded word. Radically. Sounds worse than significant, doesn’t it?

The report has gone through the media gauntlet this week.

It even goes so far as to suggest warning labels are needed on alcohol, much like the ones on tobacco products.

Not shockingly, the report’s public summary draws this grand conclusion: drinking less is better.

For those of us who enjoy more than the occasional beer or cocktail, I think most people are well aware of that fact. A hangover is a good reminder of that, your body doing more impactful work than any study will ever do after you’ve consumed a few too many drinks.

On a side note, with all our modern health advancements, will somebody find a damn cure for a hangover already?

Mocking analysis aside, there is a binge drinking issue in our culture and it is increasingly important that as a society, we do everything we can to curb this.

We should better know the long-term implications of consuming too many drinks in a week as we do with the harms of smoking and its inextricable link to cancer. Yet, for whatever reason, that data isn’t as commonly shared or well-known. Or it’s just ignored because so many of us like to blow off a little steam and a beer or drink after work or on the weekend.

“The most recent available data show that the use of alcohol causes nearly 7,000 cases of cancer deaths each year in Canada, with most cases being breast or colon cancer, followed by cancers of the rectum, mouth and throat, liver, esophagus and larynx,” the report reads, adding that the Canadian Cancer Society says drinking less alcohol is among the top 10 behaviours to reduce cancer risk.

That’s a sobering reminder, one that is not all that commonly shared, at least among people my age anyway.

Liver disease is also an issue that those who drink too much may face, although the report doesn’t provide figures on that.

Some of this data presented a problem for Brock University Health Sciences professor Dan Malleck. He starts by noting that the report says to have used over 6,000 studies, when it more accurately represents about 16, creating some issues.

“If your risk of dying from a disease is 0.2:100,000 (or 0.0002 per cent, and drinking 3 drinks a day increases that by 100 per cent, you now have a 0.0004 per cent chance of dying from that disease. Life is about making choices, but it requires being fully informed,” Malleck said in a Twitter thread earlier this week.

“This distortion of data is a matter of relative risk vs actual risk. In my example, you have a 100% increased risk of something for which you have a low likelihood of dying.

“Not to be crass, but let’s be clear: you currently have a 100% chance of dying. The biggest risk factor for death is life. How you live is important and if you’re living it trying to avoid death, it’s a fool’s errand. Spoiler alert: everyone dies. Try to live.”

I share his stance, which is to say that if you want to have a beer or glass of wine, you deserve it. Life is hard, times are difficult and if we take away too many of the things that bring us joy, what is there left to live for?

I think the main message from the study is to do your best to consume a little bit less and know that there is risk more risk to your health, the more you consume. It gets convoluted and muddied with some of the data in the report, but life is all about moderation and it’s important to know yourself and know how to be the best version of yourself.

Byron Hackett is the Managing Editor of the Red Deer Advocate.

Byron Hackett

About the Author: Byron Hackett

Byron has been the sports reporter at the advocate since December of 2016. He likes to spend his time in cold hockey arenas accompanied by luke warm, watered down coffee.
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