Alcohol--The Real Picture

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BY PETER LANDLESS, M.D., General Conference Health Ministries Department

health or horror; merrymaking or maimed bodies; temperance or tempest. These are the stark contrasts that surround the alcohol debate--or is it a debacle? The public health burden caused by alcohol is huge.

Alcohol is causally related to more than 60 different medical conditions. A recent review in the Lancet medical journal stated that overall, 4 percent of the global disease burden is related to alcohol.1 It further states that alcohol accounts for as much death and disability as tobacco and hypertension. This is a frightening statistic when one considers that tobacco causes more than 5 million deaths per year worldwide.

Dr. Bull’s article logically and systematically analyzes some of the health debates regarding alcohol and its apparent benefits. When people argue that there may be some cardiac benefits from alcohol consumption, they do not balance the case with the enormously negative impact that alcohol has overall.

An interesting example is the relationship of alcohol use and breast cancer in women. Low to moderate intake of alcohol can increase the chances of breast cancer by more than 40 percent.2 This risk can be significantly increased in women taking estrogen replacement along with the alcohol. These important findings are seldom mentioned when “apparent” cardiac health benefits are discussed.

Despite the problems of addiction, violence, traffic accidents, and diseases related directly to alcohol use, young people are ruthlessly being allured by advertising. Even when restrictions are placed on advertising, soap operas glamorize drinking and target especially the youth. An Australian study in 2001 analyzed 22 episodes of a television program, The Secret Life of Us. Alcohol featured in an average of 25 percent of the scenes (11-45 percent) of each episode; alcohol was visible on-screen 12 percent of the time; 100 percent of the characters consumed alcohol. The message was clear: young people were being shown alcohol as an inevitable part of the relationship of attractive, successful people.

Within our own church membership and educational institutions, alcohol drinking is present. Some surveys show that up to a third of students have experimented with alcohol, and approximately half remain regular drinkers. We would do well to survey our membership and monitor trends. In some areas the perception of alcohol use is higher than the reality; this situation has the danger that perception pulls people toward use. We need to be vigilant and to speak honestly and openly on the issue. Although it is an old term, temperance has an important place in keeping our minds clear and open to the prompting of God’s Spirit.

1 R. Room, T. Babor, J. Rehm, “Alcohol and Public Health,” Lancet, Feb. 5, 2005, pp. 519-530.
2 Ibid.

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