The Mythical Monolith Of Big Alcohol

monolith-2001
Since the end of February, Alcohol Justice (AJ) has been tweeting the following:

Big Alcohol will never admit #3 http://bit.ly/1mFY39E Alcohol classified carcinogenic 25 years ago

It’s part of their new series of things that “Big Alcohol will never admit.” I think somebody forgot to tell AJ that there’s no actual organization “Big Alcohol,” no single entity that speaks with one voice on all matters alcoholic.

big-alcohol-monolith
The mythical monolith of “Big Alcohol” that doesn’t actually exist, but which Alcohol Justice believes should respond to their propaganda demands.

But let’s take a look at what we’re accused of this time. According to AJ, 25 years ago Alcohol was classified as a “carcinogenic.” That tidbit comes from their Alcohol and Cancer Risk “fact sheet” which states. “The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified beverage alcohol as a Group 1 (cancerous to humans) carcinogen since 1988.” That statement is footnoted by two studies. The first is the IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans VOLUME 96 Alcohol Consumption and Ethyl Carbamate and the second is Volume 100E A Review of Human Carcinogens: Personal Habits and Indoor Combustions (2012). And those two documents do indeed state that they “concluded that there was sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity for cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus and liver.” But is that the whole story? Hardly. Since that time, they’ve added colorectal and female breast cancer for a total of seven types of cancer, out of how many different types? Dozens? Hundreds? And for at least a few of those, moderate alcohol consumption reduces risk and for most of the rest is neutral, meaning there’s little or no effect. But AJ also claims that “Big Alcohol” has been somehow denying this for the past 26 years. How exactly has anyone been denying it?

But another questionable exaggeration is this, from AJ’s press release of February 26 of this year, where they attempt to take a position that the moderate consumption of alcohol is also unsafe.

While heavy drinking presents the greatest risk, daily alcohol consumption of as little as 1.5 drinks accounts for up to 35% of alcohol-attributable cancer deaths in the United States. Added [Director of Research Sarah] Mart, “The research is clear: There is no determined safe limit for alcohol consumption with regard to cancer risk.”

But that’s at least a little misleading. That claim comes from a 2013 study in the American Journal of Public Health entitled Alcohol-Attributable Cancer Deaths and Years of Potential Life Lost in the United States. Here’s the relevant bit from the results, in the abstract.

Alcohol consumption resulted in an estimated 18,200 to 21,300 cancer deaths, or 3.2% to 3.7% of all US cancer deaths. The majority of alcohol-attributable female cancer deaths were from breast cancer (56% to 66%), whereas upper airway and esophageal cancer deaths were more common among men (53% to 71%). Alcohol-attributable cancers resulted in 17.0 to 19.1 YPLL for each death. Daily consumption of up to 20 grams of alcohol (≤ 1.5 drinks) accounted for 26% to 35% of alcohol-attributable cancer deaths.

Although they exaggerated the findings by saying “Up to 35%” instead of “26% to 35%,” which is a typical propaganda tactic, what that one study really found is that 26% to 35% of 3.2% to 3.7% of all US cancer deaths may have come from moderate drinking. Put another way, 0.83% to 1.295% of all U.S. cancers may be attributable to people who drank moderately. From that, AJ concludes that “The research is clear: There is no determined safe limit for alcohol consumption with regard to cancer risk.” If you think that’s clear, keep making those donations, because it makes no logical sense. Less than 1% of all cancer deaths up to as many as 1.3% may be attributable to moderate alcohol consumption, and that constitutes clear causation, ignoring all other factors, such as genetics, environment, and lifestyle.

The study itself claims that there’s “no safe threshold for alcohol and cancer risk” despite it representing only around one percent of all cancers in the United States. Not to mention, when you dig deeper into the data, that particular study is only examining six types of cancer. They ignore all other cancers, while still making sweeping pronouncements about cancer, and ignoring any mitigating benefits of moderate alcohol consumption, including the rather hard-to-ignore total mortality.

Here’s what I don’t understand about calling alcohol a carcinogen. If indeed it increases the risk for certain types of cancers, but not others, it seems to me it would have to increase the risk to all persons (or even most) for all cancers to be considered to show “sufficient evidence in humans for the carcinogenicity of alcohol consumption.” My sense in reading through WHO literature over the years is that their mission is more about stopping people from drinking because as an organization they’re convinced that alcohol is always bad and has no positive aspects or benefits. When you only look for negative consequences, that’s all you find.

What AJ, WHO and many of these studies do is start with a premise and try to prove it, ending up cherry-picking the studies that support it and ignoring any that don’t. That creates a powerful propaganda tool but rarely stands up to any scrutiny. Luckily, as prohibitionist groups are well aware, few subject their propaganda masquerading as press releases to much, if any, scrutiny whatsoever. So their incentive to be more truthful is practically nil. So they can just make up whatever they want, like the mythical monolith of Big Alcohol, and then wonder why they won’t admit whatever prohibitionists says, no matter how twisted or distorted.

Recent Addiction News Roundup

addiction
Regular readers know I frequently write about my belief that AA and other abstinence-only programs are doomed to fail and are not the way we should be approaching people with drinking problems. Here’s a couple of recent articles to add to the mounting evidence that our peculiar dogma about addiction is unraveling.

The first is Addicts Are Made, Not Born: And It’s Not the Drugs That Create Them, which was in SF Weekly. It covers a study done at Columbia University that concluded that the “[m]ost commonly held fears about meth are unfounded, just as they were with crack, just as they were with marijuana.”

“The science points to opportunity and surroundings as the key factors in determining who ends up ‘addicted.’ Provided choice, people will opt not to start on the road to being a fiend. Given nothing else to do, they may try drugs.” So we continue to attack the drugs, or the alcohol, but ignore the reasons people try them. Brilliant.

The second was in Psychology Today, entitled Failure as the Antidote to Addiction, which suggests that by never allowing kids to fail at anything, they never learn how to deal with adversity, or more importantly, overcome it. It seems like the same thing as with disease, where by keeping everything totally sterile and hygienic, we don’t build up the immunities to fight diseases when we encounter them.

The article features a school in Pennsylvania that’s letting kids fail at small tasks and then giving them the tools to learn from them.

Failure is an indispensable part of all innovation. When students design or build something and it fails, everyone can see that it failed; there is nothing abstract or removed about it. The most important part of the learning process is what happens next: trying to figure out why it failed and what can be done to fix it. This is how students learn to be resilient.

The other benefit is that students who learn to fail are less likely to become addicts later in life. Because “[a]ddicts react to challenges and failure by. . . you know. Somehow they failed to learn that failure is a necessary part of living, the only route to success, to coping, to dealing with the universe. And learning how to cope with failure can only occur when people, kids, encounter reality directly.”

I also think that’s why we need alcohol education, and not continue to have policies that keep kids away from alcohol or people drinking it. It, too, creates the same dangerous situation where they know nothing about the etiquette of drinking and end up bingeing in secret, which is far more dangerous, and which is also the whole point of the Amethyst Initiative.

drinking-etiquette

Marinating Your Meat In Beer Makes Grilling Healthier

grilling
Here’s good news for your next backyard barbecue. Not only is marinating your meat a tasty choice, it’s also better for your health. According to a new study by the American Chemical Society released today in their Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, “the very same beer that many people enjoy at backyard barbeques could, when used as a marinade, help reduce the formation of potentially harmful substances in grilled meats.”

The new study, Effect of Beer Marinades on Formation of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in Charcoal-Grilled Pork, is better explained in the ACS press release:

I.M.P.L.V.O. Ferreira and colleagues explain that past studies have shown an association between consumption of grilled meats and a high incidence of colorectal cancer. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are substances that can form when meats are cooked at very high temperatures, like on a backyard grill. And high levels of PAHs, which are also in cigarette smoke and car exhaust, are associated with cancers in laboratory animals, although it’s uncertain if that’s true for people. Nevertheless, the European Union Commission Regulation has established the most suitable indicators for the occurrence and carcinogenic potency of PAHs in food and attributed maximum levels for these compounds in foods. Beer, wine or tea marinades can reduce the levels of some potential carcinogens in cooked meat, but little was known about how different beer marinades affect PAH levels, until now.

The researchers grilled samples of pork marinated for four hours in Pilsner beer, non-alcoholic Pilsner beer or a black beer ale, to well-done on a charcoal grill. Black beer had the strongest effect, reducing the levels of eight major PAHs by more than half compared with unmarinated pork. “Thus, the intake of beer marinated meat can be a suitable mitigation strategy,” say the researchers.

The study was done using pork, so I wonder if it’s true for steak, too. Looking at the chart, it appears that the “Black Beer” is best for making the meat healthier, so I wonder if it’s the roasted malt? And why would non-alcoholic beer work better than pilsner? Clearly, more research is needed.

Journal-of-A

And here’s the abstract, if you want the more technical version:

The effect of marinating meat with Pilsner beer, nonalcoholic Pilsner beer, and Black beer (coded respectively PB, P0B, and BB) on the formation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in charcoal-grilled pork was evaluated and compared with the formation of these compounds in unmarinated meat. Antiradical activity of marinades (DPPH assay) was assayed. BB exhibited the strongest scavenging activity (68.0%), followed by P0B (36.5%) and PB (29.5%). Control and marinated meat samples contained the eight PAHs named PAH8 by the EFSA and classified as suitable indicators for carcinogenic potency of PAHs in food. BB showed the highest inhibitory effect in the formation of PAH8 (53%), followed by P0B (25%) and PB (13%). The inhibitory effect of beer marinades on PAH8 increased with the increase of their radical-scavenging activity. BB marinade was the most efficient on reduction of PAH formation, providing a proper mitigation strategy.

New Study Reveals We Can Identify One Trillion Distinct Smells

sense-smell
A new story in the Washington Post’s Health, Science & Environment section, entitled Human nose can detect at least 1 trillion odors — far more than thought, says study of smell, appears to upend conventional wisdom about the number of smells that humans can identify. The general number has been around 10,000 as long as I can remember. By contrast, we can see “a few million different colors” and our ears can take in around 340,000 different tones. So while smell used to be a lot farther down on the sensory spectrum, this study would appear to rocket our sense of smell to the front of the line. For beer lovers, that can’t be a surprise, because our nose conveys so much more about a beer than seeing or hearing it can, and not even tasting it comes close, as any person who’s had a head cold can tell you, after trying to taste a beer without a working sense of smell.

The study itself, Humans Can Discriminate More than 1 Trillion Olfactory Stimuli, will be published in the journal Science. Here’s the abstract:

Humans can discriminate several million different colors and almost half a million different tones, but the number of discriminable olfactory stimuli remains unknown. The lay and scientific literature typically claims that humans can discriminate 10,000 odors, but this number has never been empirically validated. We determined the resolution of the human sense of smell by testing the capacity of humans to discriminate odor mixtures with varying numbers of shared components. On the basis of the results of psychophysical testing, we calculated that humans can discriminate at least 1 trillion olfactory stimuli. This is far more than previous estimates of distinguishable olfactory stimuli. It demonstrates that the human olfactory system, with its hundreds of different olfactory receptors, far outperforms the other senses in the number of physically different stimuli it can discriminate.

It will be very interesting to see if further studies corroborate this finding, but frankly it makes a lot of sense (no pun intended).

Science also has a short interview with Andreas Keller, one of the scientists who worked on the study, where he explains some of the reasons his team thinks that their study has shown we’re capable of so many more aromas than previously thought.

America’s Addiction Treatment Goal: Perpetual, Lifelong Abstinence

addiction-brain
On Sunday, in the morning before the Super Bowl was scheduled to be played, the tragic news broke that actor Philip Seymour Hoffman had been found dead, with a needle stuck in his arm, the victim of an apparent heroin overdose. The following day, on the Psychology Today website, frequent contributor Stanton Peele posted Another One: Why So Many Celebrities Die Following Rehab. Detailing Hoffman’s history, apparently he’d given up drugs and alcohol when he was 22 years old, and had been successfully abstaining for 23 years, when he reportedly “fell off the wagon.” He’d also sought help and had been in rehab over the past six months. Peele wonders why he, and so many other celebrities, overdose and die “after recently having been in treatment? After all, many people have lived long lives while using opiates.”

Interestingly, he says that this is not uncommon and cites our attitudes toward addiction and its “cure” as contributing factors. “What is dysfunctional is our temperance attitudes towards substances, their use, and their misuse. Our attitudes towards drugs are more lethal than the substances themselves,” he writes. While Hoffman was reportedly using heroin, the way we treat addiction for drugs or alcohol is exactly the same, and for purposes of AA and other rehab and treatment facilities, alcohol is considered just another drug on the panoply of addictive substances.

Peele has identified five reasons that he believes “these deaths occur so often following rehab.” Tellingly, he also believes they “stem from one basic fact of American rehab: the one and only goal of treatment is perpetual, lifelong abstinence. No treatment time is devoted to the essential truth that most rehab grads will use again, and to prepare them for this possibility.” This has long been my belief about what’s wrong with AA and other abstinence-based “cures” that don’t cure anything. They merely suppress a person’s impulses without addressing the underlying causes or finding a way to actually cure anyone, which should mean learning how to drink in moderation without returning to bingeing or over-indulging. Peele also believes that “all of these failures to prevent post-rehab deaths are due to the kind of unrealistic, perfectionist, just-say-no approach America takes to drugs, alcohol, and addiction.”

alcohol-addiction-help

But here’s an overview of the five reasons he believes people leaving rehab so often get into trouble, sometimes fatally:

1. Combining different drugs and alcohol. Rehab grads are not made aware that the worst usage pattern is to combine alcohol and other drugs, particularly depressants. What is usually mistakenly called “overdose” is in fact the result of such lethal combinations, which depress the nervous system and cause the person’s breathing to fail.

2. Lower tolerance. If rehab grads haven’t been using for some time (which is likely the case when they are fresh out of the rehab facility), their tolerance for their drug of choice has diminished. Rehab residents should be schooled in the basic facts of tolerance and alerted that, if they use, they should lower their accustomed dosage.

3. In for a dime, in for a dollar. Twelve-step programs teach people that any level of use of any drug or alcohol is the equivalent of a full bore relapse, so that addicts and alcoholics give up all efforts at self-restraint once they have consumed any amount of a substance. As a result, they often experience a complete relapse after a slip. The opposite approach is to train addicts in relapse prevention, which teaches methods for “getting off the runaway train” at any point, from exposure to a substance, to initial use, to excessive use — for all of which there are remedies or “off ramps.”

4. Failure to have safeguards in place. Since the only permissible stance post rehab is to vow never to use a substance again, graduates are not “allowed” (or alerted) to take safety precautions.

5. Failure to have available an overdose kit. If you are going to use narcotics, you should have readily accessible an overdose kit, the main ingredient of which is naloxone (brand name, Narcan), a narcotic antagonist. In many states, overdose kits are not even used by emergency workers.

Those seem right, at least to my way of thinking. This is, for me, more evidence that America as a society has an unhealthy relationship with drinking. We seem unable to be reasonable in our approach to so many aspects of alcohol consumption and its consequences. And prohibitionist groups fan the flames of our dysfunction and make unwitting accomplices of the health and medical communities because keeping the status quo also keeps the money flowing to them and rehab centers, treatment facilities, etc. It seems that anyone who challenges the twelves steps or abstinence only approaches is immediately shot down. I can’t help but think that any system should be able to stand up to criticism and scrutiny in order to constantly improve it, but it certainly feels like the idea of powerlessness and abstinence are treated as sacrosanct dogma. And that means we’ll always be a nation of addicts who can never change.

Are addiction treatment providers the new snake oil salesmen? Just takes some pills and never touch another drop for the rest of your life and you’ll be fine. Trust us.

Alcohol-Addiction-Recovery-Kit

Why Some Drunks Fight

cockfight
You’ve undoubtedly seen a belligerent drunk at some point in your life. Perhaps you’ve even been one. There are some people who seemingly turn angry when they drink. Some of them get into fights, maybe start one in a bar, the classic mythical bar fight where chairs start flying and everybody joins in because everyone who drinks is looking for a fight, right? Watch almost any western movie to see this in action. It’s so taken for granted, it’s a cliche. I’m sure bar fights occur, but honestly I’ve never seen a full on fight like you see in the movies. And I’ve been to more bars in my lifetime than the average person, I’d warrant. There are apparently people who become angry after a few too many drinks. And some of them probably do start a fight. There are certainly people like this, and I’ve always thought of them simply as “bad drunks.”

Thomas-after-the-poker-game

My stepfather was one. He turned mean on a bender, and he was violent and very, very scary, especially to a young sheltered suburban punk like me, ages 5 to 15 or so. But I quickly figured out all on my own that it wasn’t the alcohol that made him so belligerent. He was already that way, thanks to his own trials and tribulations growing up. Not to mention he was raised in a place/culture/family/time when/where not only weren’t men supposed to show their feelings, they weren’t supposed to actually have any. That’s not an excuse, just a fact. He walked around seething, all bottled up, and used alcohol to release his demons. It seemed to help him, of course, but it was devastating to anyone around him, especially me and my mother, who was too co-dependent to do anything about it. But the next morning, the relief he’d felt was all too brief, and the pressure would start building again to its next inevitable violent conclusion; a day, a week or even a month later.

You’d think after such unpleasant experiences that I might have sworn off alcohol entirely. But as I said, I knew it wasn’t the alcohol that made him that way. It was people and society who were convinced and believed that alcohol made him angry that allowed him to continue to be a nasty drunk, and not have to take any responsibility for his actions. It was just the alcohol, they’d say. Prohibitionists today continue this lie, and it’s one of things I so hate about them, by claiming it’s the alcohol that causes harm. But it’s not. And every time they spout that meme I wonder how many more kids are made to suffer by spouses and family and a community who listen to them, and do honestly believe that were it not for the drinking, Dad would be fine, a model citizen.

But look around you. Not everybody who drinks turns angry. In fact, most don’t. That’s how I know it’s not the alcohol. Because I can get rip-roaring drunk, and never become angry. Believe me I’ve tried, but it never happens. I get more talkative, if that’s possible, and more philosophical and sleepy. And most people I know react similarly, at least insofar as they don’t start a bar fight every time they take a drink. That’s also my biggest problem with AA and similar programs that preach that people are powerless, in effect not responsible. They often claim otherwise, but turning the superhero credo on its head; with great powerless comes a great ability to shirk responsibility for one’s actions. And so it’s the alcohol that ends up with the blame, not the person who abused it. Why society allows that is apparently complicated and is something I frankly don’t completely understand.

A German study published late last year in Deutsches Ärzteblatt International, entitled Alcohol-Related Aggression — Social and Neurobiological Factors sought to examine “Alcohol-related aggression and violence” and begins by noting that “nearly one in three violent acts in Germany was committed under the influence of alcohol (31.8%).” But that also means that over two-thirds of violent acts are committed by people who were not drinking or drunk. Maybe there are other factors we should be looking at as to why people are violent? And it also doesn’t answer the question of how many violent acts were prevented because someone had a drink after a tough day and that relaxed and calmed them.

Curiously, when reported on here in the U.S., the reference to this being a German statistic was removed, making it a much broader, universal statement. For example, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center for Health Policy at the University of New Mexico, Science Daily and Medical News Today (MNT) all begin their coverage with the same sentence. “One-third of all acts of violence are perpetrated under the influence of alcohol.” So first of all, it was actually less than one-third and secondly, that statistic was confined to Germany. Not exactly an auspicious beginning for there to be two errors in the very first sentence. The MNT headline itself is misleading, stating that “Social and neurobiological factors linked to alcohol-related aggression,” while the study didn’t confirm a link so much as examine the “causes of alcohol-related aggression.” But by using that headline, it changes the tone of how you read the entire article.

Emily-Smith-vertigo-bar-fight

But that just seems like prohibitionist interests bending it to their purposes, because the study itself is interesting, and worth a read. The whole article is online, and there’s also a pdf you can download. It’s not so much a scientific study but a survey, or review, of all of the previous studies and literature about alcohol-induced aggression. In the abstract, they describe their process as follows.

In this review, based on a selective search for pertinent literature in PubMed, we analyze and summarize information from original articles, reviews, and book chapters about alcohol and aggression and discuss the neurobiological basis of aggressive behavior.

What they found was that “[o]nly a minority of persons who drink alcohol become aggressive,” which is what we all know. There appears to be evidence that “neurobiological factors” can account for the aggression, but that possibly more importantly, so can “personal expectations of the effects of alcohol, on prior experience of violent conflicts, and on the environmental conditions of early childhood, especially social exclusion and discrimination.”

They cite the World Health Organization and several other studies, and meta-studies, that indicate how many crimes, many of them violent, are committed by drunk people. But for many, if not most, of these, they specifically cite “acute alcohol intoxication” which is not the same thing as having a few beers, drinking responsibly in moderation. In addition, it’s also worse for people with “chronic alcohol consumption and alcohol dependence” issues. So again, this is a subset of all drinkers. But most American prohibitionist groups lump everybody who drinks together into one group, insisting all drinking is bad and leads to all sorts of trouble and mischief, taking a simplistic approach that treats all drinkers the same. But the Germans found things aren’t so simple.

Both clinical observations and scientific data have shown that the manifestation of alcohol-related aggression is by no means uniform. Rather, it is becoming clear that individual differences play a key role. In addition, more recent models are moving away from single-factor causes and towards multifactorial sets of conditions.

So what are the various factors that contribute to someone drinking and turning violent? They identify four.

  • Executive functions such as the control and inhibition of ongoing behavior
  • Information processing
  • Attentional control
  • Individual differences in expectation of the effect of alcohol consumption (e.g. “Alcohol makes me aggressive.”)

They also add to that list, Social learning, described as “experiences with friends or relatives who exhibit aggressive behavior under the influence of alcohol, [and] play a key role in the onset of alcohol-related aggression.”

But looking through the entire survey, what seems clear is that it’s the “expectations of effect” that has the most influence. And that brings us back to everyday experience. People believe that they can act differently under the influence of alcohol, and so they do. Society also expects that people will act differently under the influence of alcohol and so they don’t impose social penalties or ostracize that behavior. In many cases, it’s not just tolerated and excused but forgiven, and therefore enabled. By letting drunks essentially get away with bad behavior, it leads to a society that creates incentives for acting badly. That’s why I hate bad drunks so much. They ruin it for the rest of us. Bad drunks are what prohibitionists believe we all become when we have a beer, any amount of beer, despite the massive evidence to the contrary.

Other “individual factors” they identified “with an increased probability of alcohol-induced aggression” include:

  • Sex (men have a higher risk of reacting aggressively following acute alcohol consumption)
  • Personality traits such as sensation-seeking
  • High underlying irritability
  • Lack of empathy

They add. “Maladaptive reasons for drinking, such as drinking as a coping mechanism, and the assumption that aggression is an acceptable form of social interaction, also play a major role.”

So essentially, they’re saying it’s personality-driven, which has been my experience, as well. If you have a propensity to act aggressively toward women, alcohol will give you the excuse to act that out. If you’re seeking sensational experiences, alcohol will give you the excuse to act that out. If you’re already irritable or angry, alcohol will give you the excuse to act more violently and aggressive. If you already lack empathy, alcohol will give you the excuse to care about other people even less than you normally do. And as long as that’s “an acceptable form of social interaction,” then people will continue to do so because they can use getting drunk as an excuse to be a douchebag.

bar_fight_by_thanostsilis

In the conclusion they sum this up. “Individuals who find it difficult to inhibit their behavior and delay gratification and who have problems enduring unpleasant feelings seem to become aggressive more frequently after consuming alcohol.” And this happens even more often to people who are “alcohol-dependent” but curiously is “not associated with alcohol dependence, including chronic alcohol dependence, per se.” I can’t help but think that’s because in such cases being drunk is used as the excuse to act badly, knowing that society — friends, family, etc. — will let them get away with it because they too have the expectation that the alcohol is causing them to behave badly, and that they shouldn’t, or can’t, be held responsible for their actions.

As this article makes clear, while there are genetic and neurobiological factors that in some people can lead to abusing alcohol, the majority of the problem stems from social conventions. Because the neurobiological causes can be identified, dealt with and treated. The social structures that allow people to use getting drunk as an excuse for bad behavior is a lot harder to change, because it’s so well-rooted in how our society functions. And it doesn’t help that addiction organizations and medical groups that treat this problem also enable this behavior by accepting it as dogma. And it doesn’t help that prohibitionist groups believe it, too, insisting that it’s the alcohol that’s causing the harm, not the individuals using, or abusing, it. By targeting the product that some people are abusing, instead of those people, they’re essentially allowing and even making the conditions more attractive to anyone using alcohol to continue using that as their excuse. After all, they must think, “I can’t be responsible for acting like an asshole, I was drunk. The booze made me do it, I couldn’t help myself.” And that, I think, is why some drunks fight. Because we as a society let them.

We don’t need tougher laws, or more police, or roadside checkpoints, or more prohibitionist propaganda. If everybody with a friend or family member who’s a bad drunk stopped letting them get away with it, this problem would be substantially reduced, whittled down to the people physically unable to control themselves. And we could then get those people the help they need. I say don’t tolerate bad drunks, let them know you don’t accept alcohol as an excuse for their bad behavior. They’ll either stop, or they’ll figure out they really do have a health problem that needs addressing. Social pressure and the threat of ostracization are usually a much more effective method of changing behaviors.

Drinking should be about the enjoyment of life, and responsible, moderate consumption should enhance what’s good in our lives already. Whether it’s improving a meal, conversation with friends at a pub, or celebrating a holiday or personal achievement, beer can heighten and complement those experiences, from the ordinary to the very special. That’s the goal of beer with flavor, that people drink less, but better. Who could fight with that?

What Big Alcohol Will Never Admit

dna
Okay, here’s yet another piece of legerdemain by the Alcohol Justice watchdogs supposedly keeping us in the alcohol business honest. I’ve been seeing this missive over the past week or so (since they tweet it every single day) that on its face seems damning.

AJ-never-admit

Here’s what they accuse us of. “Big Alcohol will never admit #1 http://bit.ly/1ddQYTy Young adults damage DNA with weekend alcohol consumption.” Oh, no! What won’t big alcohol admit? Good question, and since that’s the charge leveled at us, you’d think it would be clear what it is we supposedly keep denying. But clicking on the link takes you to a story on MNT — Medical News today — entitled Young adults ‘damage DNA’ with weekend alcohol consumption. The article is about a study done at the Autonomous University of Nayarit in Mexico that resulted in a article in the journal Alcohol, although curiously no link is provided to the original study. The study was entitled “Oxidative damage in young alcohol drinkers: A preliminary study,” and you can read the abstract online.

But I think what’s more important is that claim by Alcohol Justice (AJ) that we’ll “never admit #1.” So take a look at the link, Young adults ‘damage DNA’ with weekend alcohol consumption. What the hell is “#1?” It would appear to be the first claim made in the article, since there are two sub-headings, which is “Oxidative damage caused by alcohol consumption.” But the second part of AJ’s tweet is “Young adults damage DNA with weekend alcohol consumption,” and the title of the article’s second subheading is “Signs of DNA damage through alcohol consumption,” which seems closer to what AJ is claiming. But I don’t think I’m being too difficult in thinking that if you’re going to claim we’re burying our heads in the sand and not admitting some horror that you make that accusation reasonably clear.

But okay, they’re not able to communicate clearly. So let’s assume it’s the DNA section they’re referring to. Here’s what it says.

An additional experiment, called the comet test, was conducted to see whether the participants’ DNA was also affected by alcohol consumption. This involved taking out the nucleus of lymphocytic cells in the blood and putting it through electrophoresis.

The researchers explain that if the cells are faulty and DNA is damaged, it causes a “halo” in the electrophoresis, called “the comet tail.”

The experiment revealed that the group who consumed alcohol showed significantly bigger comet tails in the electrophoresis, compared with the group that did not drink alcohol.

In detail, 8% of cells were damaged in the control group, but 44% were damaged in the drinking group. This means the drinking group had 5.3 times more damage to their cells.

But here’s the kicker, in the final sentence of that section. “However, the investigators say that they were unable to confirm there was extensive damage to the DNA, as the comet tail was less than 20 nanometers. But the investigators say their findings still raise concern.” So us evil alcohol folks won’t admit this, but the researchers themselves say they can’t conclusively state what’s going on or even if there’s really “extensive damage to the DNA.”

Another report about this study from Basque Research, makes the point even more clearly.

To be able to confirm the existence of considerable damage to the DNA, the comet tail must exceed 20 nm, and that was not the case. “Fortunately,” the researcher pointed out, “but the fact is, there should not have been any damage at all because they had not been consuming alcohol for very long, they had not been exposed in a chronic way.” The means by which alcohol manages to alter DNA is not yet known.

Regardless of which part of this study AJ is attacking us with, the fact is, as is clear in the title of the study, Oxidative damage in young alcohol drinkers: A preliminary study, this is a preliminary study. And throughout it the study’s authors say this is the first study of its kind to look at this and that more research is necessary.

But we’re still the bad guys because we apparently won’t admit this, even though we’ve never been asked, as far as I know. Did AJ send letter to big alcohol, and they didn’t answer? So instead they turned to twitter to shame them?

This is what pisses me off about Alcohol Justice. They make this accusation that implies that the alcohol industry is doing something wrong, that we’re immoral and damaging children wantonly and maliciously. It’s insulting. And it’s untrue. It’s dishonest, the way the accusation is made. I don’t think they care that it’s so vague and unclear, or that upon closer examination it’s not even true. People just see the headline, assume it’s correct, and the damage is done. It may be effective propaganda, but how can an organization who claims their mission is to keep the alcohol industry honest use such incredibly misleading and dishonest tactics? By automatically painting us as the bad guys for refusing to admit some unknown and vague harm that no sane person would, it’s just an out and out attack.

This is despite the fact that this is about people under 21 drinking, something that should not be happening, and for which the people who make alcohol are not responsible. I personally believe it would be less of a problem if the minimum age was lowered to 18, because then the drinking would be out in the open, not driven underground, where abuse and problems aren’t addressed. That’s also the point of view of the Amethyst Initiative, an organization of over 130 heads of American colleges and universities advocating for lowering the drinking age.

But in the end, how can an honest dialogue be even possible when the approach so often taken by prohibitionist organizations is to accuse and attack. That doesn’t do anybody any good. But I doubt that Alcohol Justice will ever admit that.

Ivory Tower Thinking

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The proverbial ivory tower of academia, where some intellectuals live and work in an insulated world separate from the real world, was never more real than in this “study” about which alcohol bands are mentioned most often in popular songs. Conducted by Boston University and Johns Hopkins, their survey of popular music, Alcohol Brand References in U.S. Popular Music, 2009–2011, was published in the December issue of the journal Substance Use & Misuse. The researchers looked at the Billboard charts in four music types — Urban, Pop, Country, and Rock. Here’s the abstract:

This study aimed to assess the prevalence and context of alcohol brand references in popular music. Billboard Magazine year-end charts from 2009 to 2011 were used to identify the most popular songs in four genres: Urban, Pop, Country, and Rock. Of the 720 songs, 23% included an alcohol mention, and 6.4% included an alcohol brand mention. Songs classified as Urban had the highest percentage of alcohol mentions and alcohol brand mentions. The context associated with alcohol brand mentions was almost uniformly positive or neutral. Public health efforts may be necessary to reduce youth exposure to these positive messages about alcohol use.

Because most journals require you to pay large sums to read them (or be an academic yourself), most of the information about this one comes from an article about the study, Music Artists Love to Sing About These 4 Alcohol Brands, which appeared on Futurity, a website covering “research news from top universities.” In it, the researchers reveal how out-of-touch they are with their subject. Of the more than one-thousand alcohol labels sold today, they noted, “only four brands show up often in the lyrics of popular songs.” Those four were Hennessy, Grey Goose, Jack Daniel’s and Patron; a cognac, vodka, tequila and whiskey. “They accounted for more than half of the alcohol brands named in songs from Billboard’s most popular song lists in 2009, 2010, and 2011.” Here’s the insights from one of the researchers.

“You would expect there would be hundreds of brands that are randomly mentioned,” says Michael Siegel, a professor of community health sciences at Boston University’s School of Public Health. “But we found that those top four accounted for 52 percent of all the brand mentions. That can’t be coincidental.”

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Are you sure?

Apparently, they also found that “alcohol use was portrayed as overwhelmingly positive in lyrics, with negative consequences almost never referred to.” I don’t think they listened to enough country music which, traditionally at least, was all about the consequences of drinking too much. But all kidding aside, why would a singer sing about any negative aspects of drinking? They’re not PSAs. The goal of pop music is to entertain, period. It’s not to educate or warn kids about the dangers of overindulging. They also seem worried because — gasp — kids also listen to the same music as adults, which the researchers found “alarming” because in their mind that meant the music was “promoting” drinking.

But after all that fretting, professor Michael Siegel admits that no “causal connection” was found between the music actual consumption, stating “further research is needed.” He also mentions that they also found that some of the artists — gasp — had sponsorship deals with some of the alcohol brands. To the researchers, that means that listeners are being marketed to, because in the ivory tower that simply has “to be recognized as marketing, not random chance.”

This so-called “study” examined (really, examined? They just listened to some music, didn’t they?) 720 songs. Of those, less than one-quarter (23.2%, or 167) mentioned alcohol. And just 6.4% (or 46 songs) dropped the name of a specific brand of alcohol, of which 51.6% mentioned one of the top four brands; Hennessy, Grey Goose, Jack Daniel’s and Patron. Of the four music genres they surveyed, alcohol was mentioned most often in “so-called urban songs (rap, hip-hop, and R&B, with 37.7 percent), followed by country (21.8 percent), and pop (14.9 percent).” They further discovered that “Tequila, cognac, vodka, and champagne brands appeared more prevalently in urban music (R&B, hip-hop, and rap), while whiskey and beer brands were more common in country or pop music. Surprisingly, there was no alcohol referred to in the rock-genre music examined.” Maybe that was Christian rock, because I can name more than a few rock and roll songs about beer alone, but maybe they’re not popular right now.

Is anyone not living in the clouds surprised by that? But let’s take a closer look at reality regarding these brands. Hennessey is hands down the best-selling brand of cognac in not just the U.S., but worldwide. Likewise, Grey Goose is the best-selling vodka. Jack Daniel’s is the best-selling American whiskey worldwide, too. At this point, you probably won’t be too shocked to learn that Patrón is the biggest selling ultra-premium tequila in the US. So when the researchers say it “can’t be coincidental” that “those top four accounted for 52 percent of all the brand mentions,” it’s not, but it’s not a conspiracy, either. They’re each the most popular brands of their type, which is the more logical reason why they’re the ones most often mentioned in songs. You don’t need a slide rule to figure that out.

As long ago as when I worked for BevMo, and saw sales figures for spirits on occasion, those were popular brands, especially among the same demographic as might listen to urban music. The brands were, and most likely still are, status symbols in some communities, which would also account for their popularity in song lyrics. That’s the reason these companies are looking for sponsorship opportunities with musicians and music events, not the other way around.

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The researchers, showing just how biased their thinking is, claim that their concern over advertising stems from a belief that “[a]t least 14 long-term studies have found that exposure to alcohol marketing in the mass media increases the likelihood that young people will start drinking, or if already drinking, consume more.” And yet a recent GfK Roper Youth Report on the Influences on Youth Decisions about Drinking clearly shows that since at least 1991, advertising is at the very bottom of the reasons that influence kids to drink, age 13-20, accounting for just 1%, though for all media (defined as a including TV, radio, magazines, and Internet) it’s twice that, but of course that’s still only 2%. It’s hardly the scourge that the prohibitionists continue to insist it is.

It’s hard to see this as anything more than researchers out of touch with the real world of music or alcohol, making pronouncements from their ivory tower without really understanding the context of what they’re commenting on, mis-analyzing the results as a consequence. For example, professor Siegel suggests that “[o]ne intervention would be to teach young people ‘media literacy skills’ that would educate them about marketing techniques.” That’s rich, considering most young people are probably far more media savvy than the average college professor.

But beyond that, the idea that music made by and for adults, but also listened to by children, is rarely, if ever, the danger it’s believed to be. Or that adults singing about adult situations, in this case alcohol, for adults to listen to should not be permitted to do so on the off-chance that kids might hear it too. But that’s typical of the ridiculous lengths and logic to which the prohibitionists will go in promoting their agenda with junk science. This type of thinking suggests that they believe there should be two worlds, one that’s exclusively adult, walled off completely lest the kiddies be corrupted by seeing and hearing adult entertainment. That advertising is so often the bogeyman, despite it having so little actual influence, has more to do with the strategy that prohibitionists have employed since the day after prohibition was repealed. Every generation, they claim, is being corrupted and ruined by alcohol advertising. And yet, each generation seems to turn out just fine, don’t they? Those same youth from the previous generation grew up to become among the next generation of researchers claiming how this next group of kids will be ruined by being advertised to by alcohol companies, and each time they miss the irony that they, too, grew up seeing alcohol advertising, as well. Maybe it’s the air up in their ivory tower that makes them so forgetful, that along with being detached from reality. Can I assume Michael Bolton, Kenny G and Barry Manilow are playing on the radio?