Alcoholism and alcohol abuse are some of the biggest plight faced in the world. To overcome this problem, each country has published its own set of guidelines for low-risk drinking. The aim of these guidelines is to reduce mortality associated with alcohol consumption and to reduce overall, alcohol-exposure related accidents, and health issues. Each country assesses the related risk and alcohol consumption rates and sets these guidelines accordingly.
What are the guidelines?
The guidelines for low-risk drinking, set by the Canadian government, state that women shouldn’t consume more than 10 drinks per week, and men shouldn’t consume more than 15 drinks per week. And according to these guidelines, 12 oz of beer, 5 oz of beer and 1.5 oz of liquor is considered a ‘drink’. However, these guidelines were found to provide variable information. Researchers found that it was unclear whether these guidelines recommend
alcohol levels that minimize risk, present no new risk or contain ‘ accepted added risk’.
How are these Guidelines set?
These guidelines are set by the Canadian government, using a relative risk approach, and studying meta-analyses. But a study performed by Adam Sherk, Ph.D., of the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research, found that these
guidelines may be set too high.
Method of Study
For his study, Dr. Sherk and his team studied all inpatient alcohol-exposure related hospitalization data, in the Canadian Institute for Health Information’s Discharge Abstract Database. They also gathered data from the Canadian Substance Use Exposure Database (CanSUED), which provided information on alcohol consumption per capita and the presence of binge drinkers, former drinkers, and abstainers in the populations.
Using all this data, they divided the population of British Columbia into 4 groups, those who never had alcohol, former drinkers, those drinking within guidelines limits, and those who drink more than recommended or
Results of Sterk’s Study
Researchers found that the consequences of alcohol-exposure in all except abstainers were almost the same despite the difference in alcohol consumption. In fact, more than 50% of the harm done was to those drinking well within limits. Even the long term effects that these guidelines were supposed to reduce, were present in patients who consumed alcohol according to government-set guidelines.
Results and Conclusion
The results of the study were astonishing. The majority of harm done was to groups of former drinkers or those drinking within guidelines. However, a limitation to be noted here was that researchers couldn’t determine the amount of alcohol consumed by the former drinkers. Regardless, they found that the guidelines are set too high. This was also noted by researchers when they compared other countries’ low-risk guidelines to Canada’s, as Canadian numbers were too high. Sherk concluded that not just Canada, but other countries should also lower the amount of alcohol they had deemed to be ‘low-risk’ to consume. He recommended using Netherland’s rules that one drink a day is the limit to prevent long term and short term effects. And when it comes to alcohol consumption, researchers strongly suggest revising these guidelines, taking into consideration gender-specific, mortality-weighted RR functions. This is especially important as men were found to face more harm than women, regardless of overall alcohol consumption levels. Hence, special attention needs to be given to the gender while setting new guidelines.