Over-indulging Alcohol Regulators

A new study on alcohol consumption raises questions about government attempts to protect adults from “over-drinking.” It is particularly relevant as citizens debate privatization of state liquor stores in places like Washington State (ballot initiative #1100 addresses both privatization and break the three-tier system) and Virginia. Advocates of regulation say that these laws are not only necessary to protect kids, we need them to promote “temperance” among adults. Supposedly, temperance is served only when alcohol is sold by government bureaucrats or government-designated middlemen (wholesalers).

But are regulators really equipped to know how much alcohol consumption is too much? Most certainly not; public-health researchers don’t even have clear answers. Indeed, a study in the November 2010 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research underscores the fact that no one knows what level is best. Headlines for this study suggest that “heavy” drinkers live longest! If that is true, government bureaucrats might contributing to your early demise by causing you to drink too little!

Despite the headlines, the findings are much more modest, indicating that there is a point between abstaining from alcohol and overindulging that it optimal for most people. In an overview of the research, this report notes that most studies report a U-shaped curve. Risks are highest on each of two ends of the curve, with absence on one highpoint and abuse on the other. This study attempts to remove a number of confounding factors, such as the reality that many abstainers are former abusers. It still comes up with a U-shaped curve.

Thus far, the research suggests that “moderate alcohol” consumption is most healthy for most people. But what is moderate? According to some measures, I am a heavy drinker because I may have more than 10 ounces of wine a day (more than two five-ounce glasses). Some days, I throw caution to the wind and enjoy three whole glasses! “Moderate consumption” of alcohol is often defined as two to three daily servings for a man and one to two for a woman. A serving is a 1.5 ounces of spirits, five ounces of wine, or 12 ounces of beer. Fortunately, other studies report health benefits from drinking up to 72 grams of alcohol a day (a typical serving of has about 12-14 grams of alcohol) — 6 drinks a day!

To make things more complicated, the “right” amount probably varies from one person to the next. In addition one’s weight, individual genetic factors may play a role in how much liquor we should each consume. Obviously, how quickly we consume alcohol as well as the amount of food we eat with our drinks impacts how alcohol affects us.

Accordingly, it is pure folly to believe that government can “protect” us by banning spirit sales in private shops, keeping hard liquor or wine out of supermarkets, levying high taxes, or by mandating that all liquor be sold through wholesalers.

Let’s face reality: The real aim of government in this business is to collect money, serve special interests (who provide campaign contributions), and keep lots of government workers on the government dole. There is no good reason to believe otherwise.