News from the Noteworthy
If I were walking around Oneonta, Richfield Springs, or Cooperstown with a microphone doing random street interviews, I might ask the question, “What is responsible drinking?” I can tell you that the likely outcome of my attempt at reporting would result in a wide range of responses and interesting conversations.
The phrase “responsible drinking” has become ubiquitous in our culture. I will admit, my ears are finely attuned to it because of the work I do. However, I don’t think that’s the whole story. When we tell each other things like, “just drink responsibly” or “all things in moderation” we are essentially using phrases that are interpreted by the listener through their own lens of responsibility and moderation. We may mean one thing, while the other person hears something different.
Let me offer a few examples. When I ask young people about responsible drinking, the answer usually has a central theme of not drinking and driving. That’s important! Absolutely don’t drink and drive. I applaud those commitments. Interestingly, there is rarely any mention personal health and safety issues related to consuming risky amounts of alcohol. So, avoiding personal injury, relationship violence, or a hangover is not part of that particular lens.
When I ask adults about responsible drinking, the answer tends to fall in a couple of categories: “know your own limit,” “only drink with food,” “always have a DD,” “No more than just a few.” Those are really important concepts to limit the impacts of alcohol, but are still hard to nail down and define. Personal health and relationship health related to specific quantities of consumption don’t often show up in the conversation.
When you think about it, why would they? Ads only ever show us the “up” side of drinking. They show happy, active people sometimes doing amazing things while having a beer, sometimes even surrounded by more beer. They show happy people socializing in a setting where everyone has a drink, laughing and enjoying each other’s company. And then, at the end of every commercial about alcohol they flash, “always drink responsibly,” or “think when you drink.” They have been teaching us their version of responsible.
Ads do not show the DWI crashes on prom night. Ads never mention that 88,000 people die every year from alcohol related causes. Ads, especially the ones with pink ribbons, do not mention that 6,000 women die every year from alcohol-related breast cancer. It’s not their job to define responsible for us. That would be a terrible business model. Their job is to sell product.
Believe it or not, even though potentially culturally uncomfortable, there are actual, defined lower risk levels of alcohol consumption. The World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control, and National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism each have scientifically based guidelines on how to use alcohol at a lower risk of harm.
Although these agencies differ slightly, they agree on a few things: 1) there is no known “safe” level of alcohol consumption. 2) Approximate 1 or 2 drinks per day for women and 2 or 3 drinks a day for men is considered lower risk. Drinking above these rates greatly increase risk of harm, and 3) the earlier studies on the potential benefits of drinking have been revised down by more recent studies on the harms of drinking. They also agree that the choice that is always safest is to simply not drink.
So, now you know. There are truly measurable answers to “what is responsible drinking.” If you ever see me on the street with a microphone (I hope not!!), you can smile and answer my question with science.
Author of this column, Julie Dostal, is executive director of The LEAF Council on Alcoholism & Addictions, Oneonta.