Why buck-a-beer may not be a good thing!

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Sabrina Almeida

For anyone who cares to listen, Toronto’s chief medical officer Dr. Eileen de Villa has sounded the alarm on the province’s loosened liquor regulations. She believes we are ill-equipped to deal with the consequences of making it easier to purchase and consume alcohol.

Recent provincial measures allowing bars to serve alcohol at 9 am (and stay open longer which the government is considering) and expanding beer and wine sales to corner stores are not in the public’s best interests according to de Villa. The absence of a strategy to deal with the health and social harms of the sudden increase in access is worrisome. Then there is also the economic cost related to health care and criminal justice to consider. Public nuisance, intoxication and other crowd-related issues resulting from increased access and consumption round up the list of concerns in her report to be submitted to Finance Minister Rod Phillips.

She recommends that municipal public health units work with the province to develop an Ontario-wide strategy to reduce negative effects. As well as study the issue further.

The reality is that society has a laissez-faire policy when it comes to consuming alcohol. Widely accepted and indulged in, its harmful effects on physical health are mostly ignored and impact on mental well-being rarely considered. Most of us prefer to steer clear of the elephant in the room. And politicians are rarely willing to take up the issue. But rising alcohol consumption and the harm it causes (not just on the streets) is a growing global concern. In fact, alcohol-related deaths are a silent epidemic in Canada according to experts.

The debate on social drinking is perhaps as old as the ritual itself which archaeologists say is an ancient one. While many studies have touted the social and health benefits of moderate or safe drinking, new research shines the light on the advantages of giving it up completely. Refreshing and well timed, I believe.

Published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), the study examined the association between ‘moderate’ drinking and quality of life across populations over a period of time. Although a randomized controlled trial showed moderate drinking had no effect on quality of life, reduced consumption was associated with better mental health in a longitudinal one. Of course, lifetime abstainers were reported to have the highest level of mental well-being. But surprisingly females who quit drinking approached the level of mental well-being of lifetime abstainers within four years of giving it up the study showed.

With alcohol consumption being a leading but preventable risk factor for cardiovascular and gastrointestinal diseases and neuropsychiatric disorders, it is time to take note of our drinking habits. After all alcoholic beverages are listed as a Group 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Furthermore, another study challenges the idea of there being a ‘safe limit’. While the findings of the study published in the CMAJ may not be conclusive, the researchers believe further analysis is required to clearly establish the impact of alcohol use on mental and physical well-being before it is recommended as part of a healthy lifestyle.

In my opinion, all rhetoric in favour of social drinking demonstrates our dependence on it whether to relax, have a good time or as an escape. An uncle once told me it was a social etiquette that I should follow. I don’t agree but perhaps he was right in saying people would be uncomfortable about my choice and suspicious too! I find myself constantly having to explain my abstinence. People will ask if I’m not drinking because I’m the designated driver. Next they want to know when I stopped. They’re perplexed that I’ve never consumed any alcohol and I can tell that some don’t believe that it is possible.

It’s true that not all drinkers abuse alcohol. As is the argument tea, coffee and non-alcoholic beverages can also be bad for your health. In the same vein consuming seven drinks at a party and abstaining the rest of the week is not the same as having one drink each day of the week.

In the end blanket recommendations about drinking are not advisable given that alcohol affects each one of us differently. The same can be said about consuming liquor for social or health benefits. One thing’s for sure, with harmful drinking expected to rise and hospitalization for alcohol-related issues going up in Canada, the relaxed regulations definitely seem to be ill-timed! -CINEWS

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