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Our views on alcohol have to change

Alcohol is often shown as something that fits into every occasion. „You can always find a reason,“ promotional texts are saying all over the world. Alcohol has been with us for thousands of years, it is part of our culture, our way of life, the industry says and justifies its business. And that is not a lie. But that is not a full story when we think of our relationship with this mind-altering substance. The fact that alcohol has been in our historical tale for thousands of years doesn´t explain why we allow it to be marketed to our children, sold at every corner shop and kept at a price of apple juice or even bottled water.

But we have always done it

Our ancestors drank it, yes, enjoyed but also suffered, ruined their lives and lives around them, for millenniums. But throughout these millenniums, people didn´t even know what this drink really did to them. Some of the most serious discoveries about the effect of alcoholic drinks have been made in the last four decades.

Alcohol is a teratogen

In 1973, fetal alcohol syndrome was first described as a specific cluster of birth defects resulting from alcohol exposure in utero. We know now that alcohol is a teratogen, an agent, which can cause a birth defect. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) are a group of conditions that can occur in a person whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy and is estimated to affect between 2% and 5% of people in the United States and Western Europe.

Alcohol is a carcinogen

For those thousands of years, people didn´t know that fact. And unfortunately even now people are poorly informed, and an alarming number of women continue drinking during pregnancy.
Since the end of the 1980s, The International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization has classified alcohol as a Group 1 carcinogen, similar to arsenic, benzene and asbestos. Its evaluation states, “There is sufficient evidence for the carcinogenicity of alcoholic beverages in humans. Alcoholic beverages at any quantity are carcinogenic to humans.“
Alcohol has been classified as a cause for seven different cancers: female breast, colorectum, larynx, liver, oesophagus, oral cavity, and pharynx cancers. And growing evidence shows that it is a probable cause of pancreatic cancer.
And again, even though scientists and doctors are putting more and more attention to alcohol as a carcinogen, the overall awareness is really low. In a recent study in England, only 13% of respondents linked alcohol with cancer risk. People simply don´t know about it. Or they don´t believe it. Why? Well, we have been drinking for thousands of years… Alcohol is part of our culture…

There is no safe level

For all of these thousands of years, we didn´t know what alcohol can actually cause.
For a long time, some are arguing that since 60 Minutes aired its „French Paradox“ segment in 1991, there has been a strong understanding that drinking wine is healthy and protects against cardiovascular diseases. That is the belief that people want to believe! It spreads from mouth to mouth, and it is shared at dinner tables, possibly even from doctors to their patients. But it has been proven to be a myth. The latest study, saying that „moderate drinking can’t protect against stroke. It actually increases risk“, was published just this month. „There are no protective effects of moderate alcohol intake against stroke. Even moderate alcohol consumption increases the chances of having a stroke,” Zhengming Chen of University of Oxford, one of the study’s co-authors, said in a statement.
Way too many people are living with a dishonest relationship with alcohol. There are a countless number of myths, some of which we are knowingly fooling ourselves with. Why? Because alcohol is a lifestyle issue and people want to be free to choose their way of living. Their way of relaxing and have fun. Bad news, new facts, counsel from doctors or even from politicians is something that many people don´t want to hear.

For our children´s sake
But we can´t ignore the facts. Scientific understanding of alcohol has changed. Dramatically. Unfortunately, we cannot say that our views of alcohol have changed as well. And in many cases, our countries won´t change the way alcohol is regulated, even though we know exactly what works in reducing alcohol consumption and related harms.
It´s one thing to tolerate these myths when we think of ourselves, but it is a very different story when we think of our kids. We know the risks they are facing, and alcohol is playing a massive role in many of these problems. Whether it´s drink driving, sexual assault or just health harm that alcohol causes to a still-developing organism, these are risks that shouldn´t be a regular part of our children’s lives.

Our message to our children should be that when it comes to alcohol, we cannot continue the same way we have always done. It has to change. And we work towards that change because we love our children.

Lauri Beekmann
Executive director, NordAN
@lbeekmann