The good folks at Alcohol Justice (AJ) really know where my goat is tied (as an old friend used to say) because they sure know how to piss me off. They tweeted out this morning about a CDC Report on Alcohol and Public Health: Alcohol-Related Disease Impact with the following. “In the US, what kills 88,000 people and causes $223 billion in harm annually?” It’s their usual bullshit meme about how alcohol, not people, kills and harms. But perhaps most offensive is the accompanying photo, showing beer as poison.
I know it was just for effect, but how utterly obnoxious. The most popular alcoholic beverage worldwide, and third most popular of all beverages, is poisonous? Shouldn’t we all be dead right now, then? That’s a tad extreme, and typically untruthful, especially considering that throughout history had it not been for the safer-than-water drink many of our ancestors would have perished and who knows how many of the folks working at Alcohol Justice might not even be here today were it not for beer. I guess that was then, and this is now, and they’re certainly an ungrateful bunch, unable to say a kind word about anything to do with alcohol. It’s also a slap in the face to the literally millions of people across the globe who make, sell and serve beer, and other alcoholic beverages. But insulting us is part and parcel of their mission, and is never given a second thought, as far as I can tell.
But lest I give them too much credit for creativity, it wasn’t even their photo, but was, presumably, bought from Colourbox, a company selling stock photographs. But even they knew the photo was about the “dangers of alcoholism” and not about beer being poison, which is the sense in which AJ is clearly using it.
But let’s get back to the content, first that 88,000 people are killed by alcohol. The CDC report and the accompanying chart is entitled “Alcohol-Attributable Deaths Due to Excessive Alcohol Use” (my emphasis), a qualifier conveniently left off by AJ.
The chart itself is divided into two parts, chronic and acute “causes.” Chronic is essentially a laundry list of diseases or illnesses that people presumably died of who also drank. But saying that alcohol is the single and direct cause of almost all of those is utterly absurd. There are so many factors that would account for any one of those that it’s mind-boggling that they could print that with a straight face. Some, maybe most, were no doubt exacerbated by the overuse of alcohol, but certainly there would have been additional factors, like genetics, age, other health issues, etcetera, that would have contributed to an individual contracting a specific ailment. Alcohol is not necessarily the smoking gun, but one of perhaps many factors that would have contributed.
But the acute “causes” are even more preposterous, if that’s possible, as they include such causes as “Air-space transport, Drowning, Fall injuries, Firearm injuries, Hypothermia, Suicide and Water transport,” to name a few. And those are the majority of the deaths they attribute to excessive alcohol use. Take hypothermia; if you get so drunk that you’re too foolish to come in out of the cold, it wasn’t the alcohol that did you in, it was stupidity. And suicide? The alcohol may have given you the courage to go through with it, but I can all but guarantee there were many more root causes that led someone to contemplate taking their own life, and those are far more complicated than excessive drinking.
Curiously, the CDC also has compiled a list of facts about Deaths and Mortality. Alcohol is not even listed among the top ten causes of death in the U.S. Heart disease is number one, although I must have missed the calls to ban red meat and other causes of heart problems.
The number of Americans who pass away each year is around 2,468,435, making even the almost 88,000 skewed figure a mere 3.5% of the total. But if they had used the nearly 88,000 figure, it would have been fifth. The reason it’s not there is because that number is made up of a number of different causes. Even though they refer to it as “attributable,” those are things that may contribute, along with many other factors, but they’re not necessarily the direct cause itself. The CDC report makes that clear if you take the time to look at it. Alcohol Justice does not, and uses it as alarmist propaganda.
If you switch the view of the CDC report from “Excessive Alcohol Use” to “All Alcohol Use” the number actually goes up to 106,434. So why didn’t AJ use that number since it makes the problem seem even more dire? Well, the chart toward the bottom also factors in “Beneficial Effects,” and claims positive benefits to 26,284. That gives all alcohol use a net total of 80,150, which is actually lower than the number attributable to excessive drinking. So even with the questionable numbers and reasoning, they did go with the worst numbers, of course.
As for the second number, the “$223 billion in harm,” that’s not addressed or even mentioned in the CDC report, so I think it’s safe to assume that they, as usual, just made it up. It’s probably taken from some other bullshit propaganda piece, but there’s no link to it in the tweet, so we’re left guessing, at least until the next missive from the watchdog sheriff.
Before the angry comments inevitably pile up, I’m not making light of death, any death. I fear death as much as the next person, increasingly so as I inch closer toward that light at the end of this tunnel we call life. But how, and why, people die and perhaps more importantly, how they lived, cannot be reduced to a balance sheet. It’s not a matter of tallying the good and bad we’ve done to ourselves and others, and assigning a number. Life is far more complex and complicated. So is death. Nobody’s picking up a bottle of beer and seeing a skull and crossbones on it. To put one there ignores the myriad positives that alcohol brings to most people’s lives, how it enhances and enriches them. Those intangible benefits are almost unquantifiable, although we all know they exist. It’s why beer and alcohol have been an integral part of civilization since the very beginning of recorded history. That there is a small minority of individuals who are unable or unwilling to control themselves with alcohol is not a reason to dismiss the overwhelming majority of us who can, logic apparently utterly lost on the prohibitionists.
One of the more popular toasts when drinking is L’Chiam, which in hebrew means “to life.” And that, I think, is what we drink to each and every time we raise a glass of beer to our lips. To life!