The dust it seems is beginning to settle on the publishing of the new alcohol guidelines by the Governments chief quack. Many many people have written some truly excellent articles on these guidelines some of which I will link to or summarise in a bit. First however lets review those new guidelines in full:
There’s no safe limit – you must go teetotal and abstain
If you can’t abstain don’t drink more than 2 units (a pint a day)
You mustn’t drink every day and you mustn’t have more than 6 units in a day.
Also don’t have fun*
Or more succinctly:
Drinking alcohol will kill you – hopeless addicts will be allowed 2 pints every other day and there is no safe level of fun**.
Nice simple guidelines then, and the puritans do like simple un-nuanced messages that they can repeat mantra like until we all do what they say just to shut them up. Of course where the puritans and the Government are involved there’s no such think as “just guidelines”. If you don’t follow the voluntary guidelines then they’ll ratchet things up until they’re not voluntary any more. Already the slippery slope (which the puritans still insist doesn’t exist) is in evidence with alcohol free Scotland calling for “cigarette-style warnings” on booze.
The actual evidence from many many studies and meta studies is that moderate drinking makes for a longer life than being teetotal (though it may not seem that way if you don’t drink). This robust and vigorous evidence for a J shaped mortality curve for drinkers has been dismissed as an “old wives tales” by the governments chief quack based on a single study. I would of course also argue that “length of life” may not be the best measurement to use for what we can and can’t do – quality of life would seem far more relevant. After all a life without risk would be very dull indeed and the puritans aren’t yet calling for “no safe levels of” mountain climbing, cycling or driving (well not yet at any rate). One thing to note is that in most of the press releases the puritans just talk about how “There is no evidence that drinking above government guidelines provides any benefit to the heart”, where as of course there’s far more to health than just your heart and the J-shaped curve is for total mortality. So just because drinking may not be as good for your heart as some studies suggest the puritans want to use that as an excuse to disregard the benefits to total health that moderate drinking provides. It looks as though the puritans “science” is playing fast and loose with the data. I’d not go so far as to say that the Chief quack and fellow puritans are lying but they are misleading us. If we look at the previous studies we’d need to drink 40 units a week to have the same mortality as teetotalers, so I can but assume that the danger they’re trying to protect us from is enjoying ourselves (something they consistently put no value on). Likewise if they were actually concerned with health rather than a moral crusade they might make it clearer in their numerous and unending campaigns of nagging that things like Dry January may do more harm than good.
It is hard to avoid the suspicion that the purpose of these guidelines is to denormalise drinking following the tobacco template. After all if there is “no safe level of drinking” then everyone involved in producing or providing alcohol are now involved in a toxic trade and far more easily attacked. The lower guidelines will also of course also create 2 million new problem drinkers, which proves there’s an alcohol problem which will need more action from the puritans.
The one good thing that may come out of these latest guidelines is that it looks as though the puritans may have over played their hand as everyone from the Guardian (well kind of) to the Telegraph to Spiked and numerous other sources have carried articles decrying them as laughable and based on bad science. So just for once the puritans aren’t getting it all their own way in the mainstream media. We can’t be complacent in our fight against the puritans but maybe once we get used to treating these guidelines as not just wrong but stupid we might begin doing the same with some of the puritans other mutterings.
So in summary:
The puritans are once more lying and their “science” is so bad it’s not even wrong. The guidelines are never intended to remain as just that, but are to provide more grease for the slippery slope toward prohibition – despite the detrimental impact that will have on public health. Ignore them and mock them when you can, and relax in the knowledge that the science shows that moderate** drinking is the best choice for a long and happy life.
* I may have made that up
** I may have also made up that last bit as well
*** Not moderation is the key here, probably best keep it below 20 pints a week (if you want to live as long as a teetotaller) , have the odd day off and not too many in one go (at least not too often). If you’re debating selling the kids to buy another bottle of Rioja then you may have a problem and might want to get some help (though this may depend on your kids and how good the Rioja is).