How Are We Being Harmed?
A 2015 New Zealand Medical Journal article estimated that 802 deaths of people up to 80 years of age were attributable to alcohol in 2007. Because our drinking patterns haven’t changed, the ongoing annual toll is likely to be similar.
“Forty per cent of that is caused by injury, both intentional and unintentional, including a substantial number of suicides,” says the article’s lead author, Jennie Connor, professor of epidemiology at Otago University. The other 60% ( generally later in life) involves chronic conditions such as cancers, digestive and respiratory disorders and cardiovascular disease – “and that’s a huge burden on everyone”.
Connor says the New Zealand guideline for safe drinking is no more than an average of 15 drinks a week for men and 10 for women. “But those are small, hotel-sized drinks. In reality, two standard drinks for women equate to one big glass.”
And on any one day, a man shouldn’t have more than five drinks – a woman no more than four.
Convincing us that we should curb consumption is no easy task for researchers, especially as some statistics don’t look too alarming. “Australia has a similar drinking guideline and it estimated that your chance of dying of drink over a lifetime – if you drink at the guideline level – would be 1%.
“Of course, people say, well that’s not much. But it’s quite high risk for a commodity that’s being sold to us.”
Connor says it’s well accepted across society that having a little alcohol is harmless and even beneficial. “But the evidence for that is in fact weak.”