After spending hours in traffic or on airport runways to spend time with our in-laws, many adults plan to enjoy a few glasses of hard cider or wine this Thanksgiving. But if you enjoy more than a few beers during the Thanksgiving meal and day of football watching, watch out: the Centers for Disease Control considers it a “binge drinking event.” And the agency claims that behavior is costing our economy billions every year.
According to the CDC, it’s not just the folks consuming a few cocktails over the holiday causing problems. Having a nightly glass or two of wine (depending on your gender) is considered “excessive drinking.”
If the line between “moderate” and “excessive” drinking seems confusing to you, you’re not alone. The CDC’s view on excessive alcohol consumption conflicts with another federal agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Every two years, the USDA publishes a new edition of its “Dietary Guidelines” advising Americans what to eat and drink and how much to consume. In recent editions, the USDA advises “moderate alcohol consumption” of one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.
The USDA bases its recommendations on the large volume of research showing moderate drinking can have modest health benefits. Studies published in the last year have linked low levels of alcohol consumption by some populations to lower heart disease risks, better control of diabetes, improved memory, and fewer instances of certain cancers.
The CDC considers drinking “excessive” if a woman consumes over 8 drinks per or a man consumes over 15. So while one drink per day is healthy, a woman who indulges in a second glass of wine one night has wandered into the CDC’s “excessive” drinking territory.
Unfortunately, the CDC isn’t alone in its quest to curb moderate drinking.
This fall, U.S.-based alcohol activist organizations such as the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, the Center for Alcohol Marketing and Youth, and Alcohol Justice joined public health groups from around the world to examine
strategies to cut alcohol consumption. Among the recommendations: eliminating any alcohol advertising and raising alcohol taxes.
Neither of these strategies target problem drinkers.
As research released earlier this year from the University of Texas at Austin reiterates, advertising has little effect on overall alcohol consumption. Instead, advertising affects which brands or categories of alcoholic beverages consumers choose. And higher taxes don’t target those who are alcohol dependent; instead, they are regressive and hit moderate social drinkers squarely in the wallet.
Those who are addicted to alcohol — who should be the focus of these large government agencies — are the least sensitive to price increases. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that alcohol tax increases did not affect the 5 percent of consumers who are the heaviest drinkers. Instead, higher prices encourage moderate drinkers to cut back and heavy drinkers to switch to cheaper brands.
Alcohol abuse is a serious problem, but focusing on Americans without a drinking problem is grossly misguided. Instead of warning Vermonters to skip the beer while watching the football game this Thanksgiving, the CDC should have steered resources to helping those with alcohol addictions get the treatment they need.