France’s 3x Death Rate from Alcohol & 6 Other “Pro” Alcohol & Drug Myths Refuted

Sam Smith

Sociologist

Latest posts by Sam Smith (see all)

    While there are numerous alcoholic myths are out there, like how to get sober quickly, it’s really worth discussing the few “pro alcohol” myths which encourage drinking. Consider the global risks of alcohol..:

    • Alcohol is the 5th most common killer in the world
    • Alcohol causes 3+ million deaths per year
    • Alcohol is the #1 killer for ages 15-49
    • Alcohol causes 1 in 4 deaths

    With those sobering stats in mind, let’s look at the myths that contribute to alcohol consumption, because as long as there are any perceived benefits for drinking a few beers, the rate of use and abuse are likely to be higher than they are.

    1. The French have lower alcoholism rates because their children are introduced to wine at an early age.

    Verdict: False

    Death rates are much higher in France (50k):  Since the US is around 80-90k alcohol deaths per year, but considering the relative population of each, the death rate is more than 3x higher in France than in the USA:

    “The reputation of the French for drinking in moderation appears slightly misleading after a worrying report released on Monday revealed alcohol is responsible for around 49,000 deaths in France each year – around 134 each day.”

    “The study, carried out by the Service for Biostatistics and Epidemiology at the Institue Gustave Roussy, near Paris found that around 36,500 French men die each year from alcohol-related illnesses, around 13 percent of the overall male mortality rate.”  – TheLocal.fr

    Comparing to the USA is just one angle, but what about the rest of the world? According to Global Information System on Alcohol and Health, and visualized by a news site, France leads the world in youth binge drinking rates:

    french drinking rates

    Go Africa!

    Looking at another range, 15-16 year olds show a similar trend, and many European countries have more than double the rate of binge drinking compared to the USA, thereby discrediting another myth that we (USA) should just copy Europe in all their programs.

    2. Drinking red wine is healthy because of resveratrol:

    If resveratrol is due to the grape skin, then would grape juice be just as effective? According to MayoClinic, the answer is “It’s possible” as several studies support it. But even the stidoes on mice would require an equivalent dosage of 750 – 1500 bottls of wine every day.

    Besides, Harvard says other studies do not show any benefit to resveratrol but we should not be surprised as there are usually contradicting studies in all areas of medicine. E.g. Fiber may not be important after all.

    If ingesting more “resveratrol” is really a concern, then you could either: eat healthier “You may already consume a fair amount of resveratrol […] found in foods such as peanuts, pistachios, grapes, red and white wine, blueberries, cranberries, and even cocoa and dark chocolate.” ; or, you could just buy some resveratrol supplements.

    It is bizarre to think that somehow scientists got so excited to promote resveratrol that they failed to even consider the negative risks of promoting drinking, which has far worse consequences for many people.

    There are other possible health benefits to consuming occasional glasses of wine, like minor improvements to blood-sugar, and dementia risk, but only for moderate drinkers–again, which studies are reliable? Besides, there are probably hundreds of ways to accomplish the same health goals, especially considering when one considers the asymmetrical risks associated with alcohol.

     

    3. Drinking wine is safe:

    “We have normalized drinking,” says journalist Ann Johnston. “We look at red wine like it’s dark chocolate.” It would appear that a normalizing view of alcohol is occuring.

    While there may not be studies that show the switch between casual wine and alcoholics/binge drinking, women drinking patterns in general may be useful as women are typically the “wine drinkers” in today’s society.

    A review of national surveys (2002) shows dramatic increases of alcohol use among women, regardless of race:

    White: 47% up from 37%
    Black: 30% up from 21%
    Hispanic: 32% up from 24%.

    More recent data suggests the same trend. “Heavy drinking is on the rise in many parts of the U.S. — up more than 17 percent since 2005, researchers reported Thursday. And rates are rising faster among women than among men.” and “Nationally, 18.3 percent of Americans were binge drinkers in 2012, an increase of nearly 9 percent since 2005. “

    The future trends are equally cloudy as the mortality rates of white women, ages 35 to 54, have more than doubled in the last two decades according to the Washington Post.

     

    4.  Social drinking is not harmful:

    The rate of non-drinkers that eventually became alcoholic is exactly 0%.

    no one can predict if a person will become an alcoholic, predisposed or otherwise, therefore, any drinking always presents risks of dependance

    So while social drinking may be true for some, no one can predict if a person will become an alcoholic, predisposed or otherwise, therefore, any drinking always presents risks of dependance. The message to kids, and people who have never drank, should be: Do not start drinking alcohol as it is the only guaranteed way to avoid abuse. Not a popular message today, but binary (do vs. do not) approaches to potentially addictive behaviors is the only guaranteed way to prevent habits from being able to form. Likewise, for those already dependant on alcohol/drugs, complete abstinence is usually critical, and the only effective means to prevent relapse. So if it works for them, it can work for non-drinkers.

    Also realize that the term “social drinking” does not necessarily mean drinking in low-volumes. Is it safe to assume that “peer-pressure,” acceptance, and conformity are among the top reasons people use drugs? If so, then we can infer that main cause of alcoholism is “social” drinking, or “social binge drinking.”

     

    5. Legalizing more drugs = Freedom, and will reduce abuse:

    Before looking specifically at alcohol, it’s worth a detour to consider other drugs in the same light.

    No limits on drugs are a core doctrine of libertarianism and generally progressive society, and so there must be nothing that would free society more than to have a liquor store, a cigarette  vending machine, and a meth dispenser, on every street corner; and let’s not forget the children either. I am not against the idea that the entire population should be continually freer to enslave themselves at their own choice, but is there a point of diminishing returns, or unnecessary risk, especially when those that do not want such risks nearby are subjected to them?

    While the idea of “freedom” has merit, the more access we have to drugs/alcohol via cost, convenience, communication/promotion (basically the 4 C’s of marketing), the higher the usage, and the higher the net enslavement. Much like expecting internet addiction to decline when it is becoming easier and easier to access (your pocket); or expecting sugar food addiction to decline when you have a shelf full of cookies in your pantry. There are few taboos against many of these lesser addictions, which has not helped to decrease addiction rates.

    Should we be surprised that the places with the highest alcohol restrictions, limited access to alcohol, also have the lowest alcohol abuse rates? If you want help to stop drinking, your best bet might be central Saudi Arabia, or Kuwait, where drinking rates are well under 1% and also illegal, making it difficult to access.

    acohol use rates around world

    Source: OurWorldInData

    So let’s look at the “open market” approach. On one hand, the USA is in an opioid crisis, and on the other hand, the general population wants more drugs–recreational marijuana, which tends to follow medical marijuana, as Colorado has shown us. But it may be worth saving the time in copying the 40-year Dutch experiment, because marijuana is really a large export market for tourists (up to 80%), and are possibly a growing narco state; and Holland is now the new Mexico, as reported by the EU Drug Markets Report:

    • Over half of Europe’s $5.7 billion dollar cocaine supply travels through Rotterdam.
    • Europe’s leading producers of synthetics like ecstasy and amphetamines are Holland and Belgium.
    • Most ecstasy used in Europe and the US comes from labs in southern Holland.
    • The Netherlands and Spain are chief countries for cocaine trafficking.
    • A tripling of heroine addiction rates, and 2x that of England, along with a myriad of other possible negative outcomes too numerous to mention here.

    Besides, with the impossibility of cross-comparing a single culture, economics, uselessly data sets, cherry-picking, continually changing and dynamic culture/demographics, the inability to test society in a vacuum, the jury will always be out on what effect certain policies have.

    Christian Hoofer weighs a lot of these problems at a high level, which is definitely worth a read. So are the latest failures of Colorado legalization.

    Besides, I am still not sure what “medical marijuana” is, as at least one analysis of 24 studies (A Systematic Review of the Effectiveness of Medical Cannabis for Psychiatric, Movement and Neurodegenerative Disorders) said a “definitive conclusion on its efficacy could not be drawn.” So medical marijuana may be a myth too. I doubt most people who are voting for it have done a systematic review of the research either, which brings me back to “medical marijuana” simply being a stepping stone, but I digress.

    One final note: 20% of young adults are currently binge drinking in the USA, so legalizing more drugs may not lead to lowers rates of abuse.

     

    6. Using alcohol/drug taxes to generate government revenue is better for society:

    It is interesting to consider how many addictive and former black-markets shifted hands from private entrepreneurs (the growers and dealers) to govt programs, usually in the name of public safety.

    Take for example lotteries, a form of gambling. It is considered beneficial when a govt does it, yet 2.2% of the population is hooked on gambling. If the governement truely cared, they would at least use those proceeds entirly for helping addicted victims.

    Some would argue, if the government did not allow gambling then citizens would resort to gambling black markets, which may be true to some degree, however this chart shows the strong relationship between the most addicted states along-side their “gambling friendly” rank: The more gambling friendly a state is, the higher the addiction rates. Surprised? See point #4 above again.

    (Data)

    Maybe a second,  deeper reason to regulate vice industries is that it helps keep more revenue at home, instead of in poorer areas of the world where much of it is currently sourced. Just looking at Mexico, the Wachovia wire fraud scandal alone imported the equivalent of 1/3 of Mexico’s GDP over a few years, basically drug money (1, 2), while other estimates say “The amount of money pouring into Mexico […] estimated to be about $35 billion to $40 billion each year”.  Finding new revenue sources is increasingly important in a country where the economy and especially its govrnment are increasingly having financial challenges.

     

    7. Lies, Bigger Lies, and Advertising

    All advertising uses some sort of message to communicate its benefits. According to the Center for Media Literacy, these include:

    1. Risk does not exist, as commercials fail to portray signs of addiction, nor destroyed lives.

    2. Alcohol is necessary for survival.

    3. Some messages even subtlety promote alcoholic behavior, such as suggesting that daily trips to the bar are part of life

    4. Alcohol can improve your life: “happiness, wealth, prestige, sophistication, success, maturity, athletic ability, virility and attraction”

    5. Alcohol is not dangerous: Legal drugs (alcohol, cigarettes) may kill far more people than illegal drugs, so maybe the war on drugs should also include a war against alcohol and its advertising. Who could imagine seeing ads for meth, cocaine, and heroin, so why allow alcohol ads?

    6. Alcoholic beverage companies innocuously promote alcoholism with such phrases as “drink responsibly,” giving people the false sense of control. No one sets out to become an alcoholic, yet 1 in 10 drinkers do.
    While much advertising uses the direct, or central route of persuasion, the largest budgets in advertising are often devoted to a far less understood approach: the periphery route. In a well-established piece published in 1983, “Central and Peripheral Routes to Advertising Effectiveness: The Moderating Role of Involvement”, it outlines:

    “Attitude changes that occur via the second or peripheral route do not occur because the person has diligently considered the pros and cons of the issue; they occur because the person associates the attitude issue or object with positive or negative cues or makes a simple inference about the merits of the advocated position based on various simple cues in the persuasion context. For example, rather than carefully evaluating the issue-relevant arguments, a person may accept an advocacy simply because it is presented during a pleasant lunch or because the message source is an expert.”

    Just think, Super Bowl commercials, and any commercial that is just designed to make you laugh or love. Have you ever wondered what talking frogs, “Whazzup” ads, and Clydesdale horses have to do with the benefits of drinking beer? and what do talking lizards and cavemen have to do with saving money? Nothing,, but you love the commercials, therefore you are more likely to associated positive feelings about the brand.

    Of all the problems out there, perhaps the largest is the legalized drug dealing promoted through media, destroying countless lives in the name of profit.

    So, the next time someone says “alcohol is good for you,” you might want to reconsider. And if society takes an increasingly negative viewpoint of alcohol, maybe that will lower rates too, like the campaign against tobacco in recent years.

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