demon alcohol is baaaaack!

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Just when you thought it was safe to enjoy that glass of wine with dinner, a wave of horror headlines has tsunamied across the internet. “Alcohol More Dangerous Than Heroin!” says NPR, where it is the number one most read story of the past few days. “Alcohol ‘most harmful drug,’ followed by crack and heroin” writes CNN. The story, out of London, has been picked up by newspapers and online news sites all over the world. And it’s true... sort of... well, not actually...

The story began with a study done in England and funded by Britain's Centre for Crime and Justice Studies. I suspect this is a raging anti-alcohol, neoProhibition (if such can exist in a country that didn't ever have Prohibition) type of group. Study results were first reported in The Lancet, a British medical journal, and quickly went viral.

As with all such studies, the devil is in the details, though Beelzebub certainly has a grip on the headlines. The horror headlines are based on conclusions obtained by a technique called multicriteria decision analysis, which assessed damage according to nine criteria theoretically measuring harm to the user, and seven criteria measuring (and "measuring" is certainly open to interpretation here) harm to others. Alcohol came up the loser big time, with a score of 72 on a scale of 100 – higher than heroin (#2 at 55), crack cocaine (#3 – no doubt with a bullet – at 54), meth, and even, believe it or not, higher than tobacco!

If you make it past the headlines, at least on CNN's website, you learn that the Lancet article was co-authored by Professor David J. Nutt, Britain's former chief drug adviser. It was Dr. Nutt, CNN notes, who ignited a similar controversy a year ago when he published an article claiming that taking the drug ecstasy was not as dangerous as riding a horse! (Ecstasy seems to be a Nutt favorite, and gets a harmfulness score of just 9 – down around chewing gum I would imagine).

So I guess the message from Britain is, have a hit of ecstasy with your evening meal, and avoid harming your loved ones!

Jeez. Could anything more ridiculous come out of a study on the abuses of drugs and alcohol? And could the media be any more irresponsible with their coverage of this "story"? I don’t see how.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am surprised that you were. Alcoholism is and has alway been widely known as far more socially disruptive than other intoxicants. I think the standard figure for years is that one out of ten Americans is adversely affected by alcohol. I doubt that a lot of those are premium wine drinker. RobLL

PaulG said...

Sorry, Rob, but I don't buy it. I've known thousands of people in my life, and only a handful who had any problems with alcohol. Of those few, more than half had come to terms with it and no longer drank at all. So your 1 in 10 figure seems way out of line to me.

Plymale said...

On the face of it, it seems like comparing apples to oranges, given that only alcohol and tobacco are legal, and hence much more widely available, whereas the others are responsible for much violence and other crimes simply due to their prohibition (I'm not sure whether this was taken into account).

Anonymous said...

"I suspect this is a raging anti-alcohol, neoProhibition (if such can exist in a country that didn't ever have Prohibition) type of group," said the unbiased man who maintains a blog on "wine-related topics of interest." Clearly, the vast majority of individuals who indulge in alcohol are not casual samplers of fine wine. Without question, alcohol has devastating effects on society (which significantly outweighs its benefits), and your anecdotal "I've known thousands of people in my life and only a handful who had any problems with alcohol" does little to counter a peer-reviewed study endorsed by CNN and National Public Radio. That is the reality, whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, but I suspect that my ramblings will fall on deaf ears.

PaulG said...

Anon, your opinion is your opinion, but let's be clear, this was not endorsed by CNN and NPR. They simply ran an AP news story without bothering to notice that it was basically anti-alcohol propaganda. The vast majority of people who enjoy a glass of wine, a beer, or a cocktail at the end of the work day are quite capable of doing so responsibly. That, my friend, is a fact, not an opinion.

1winedude said...

The larger issue is that this is the kind of stuff that groups like the PLCB take out of context and use as scare tactics on state voters, to help continually justify their existences...

Ladylove said...

Journalism just isn't what it used to be....

Anonymous said...

The one in ten includes spouses, children, victims on the road, etc. RobLL

PaulG said...

From Wikipedia: "Lies, damned lies, and statistics" is a phrase describing the persuasive power of numbers, particularly the use of statistics to bolster weak arguments...

Todd said...

Probably the same people behind the ban on Happy Meals in San Francisco.

Anonymous said...

Also from Wikipedia.

"Substance use disorders are a major public health problem facing many countries. "The most common substance of abuse/dependence in patients presenting for treatment is alcohol."[101] In the United Kingdom, the number of 'dependent drinkers' was calculated as over 2.8 million in 2001.[117] About 12% of American adults have had an alcohol dependence problem at some time in their life.[118] The World Health Organization estimates that about 140 million people throughout the world suffer from alcohol dependence.[22][23] In the United States and western Europe 10 to 20 percent of men and 5 to 10 percent of women at some point in their lives will meet criteria for alcoholism."

Note, I will not post again on this topic. But I do think you are seriously underestimating the problem. RobLL

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