Navigating risk is part of daily life for every adult on the planet. Whether it’s deciding what to eat, where and when to cross the road or whether to participate in activities like sports or sunbathing, we constantly evaluate the possible consequences of our choices and decisions.
Drinking alcohol is another example of a lifestyle choice which many millions of people around the world make on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. While it’s important to respect and support those who choose not to drink, for many adults, moderate consumption of beer, wine and spirits is an important and enjoyable part of their social life.
However, one may read and hear sweeping statements when it comes to drinking alcohol, such as there is “no safe level”. This defies common sense for billions of adults around the world who drink in moderation, and hundreds of peer-reviewed studies have consistently shown over the past four decades that light and moderate drinkers tend to live at least as long as non-drinkers, and generally live longer than heavy drinkers. Recent studies show that this remains the case even when considering former drinkers separately from lifetime abstainers.
Claiming that any level of drinking for anyone, however low, risks creating unnecessary fear and anxiety in those who drink in moderation. When IARD and YouGov polled 9,000 people across eight countries to choose from a given list, we found that most adults (60%) want information which helps them make their own decisions about their overall health and wellbeing, or actionable and practical advice that is relatable and culturally relevant.
In contrast, the ideological message of “no safe level” doesn’t help people understand the risks associated with one drink versus four drinks. Nor does it help drinkers evaluate the impact of their drinking on their health, or provide any effective pathway to support adults who do drink harmfully to moderate their alcohol intake. It could even be counterproductive by eroding trust in public health advice and alienating those who are most in need of practical support.
Addressing the issue of harmful drinking requires a comprehensive society-wide pragmatic approach.
For many people, if the message is that they should avoid alcohol completely, there is a risk of alienating them to the point where they turn away from health advice altogether. It is in everybody’s interests to adopt a more inclusive and relevant approach, giving adults practical advice which helps them to assess and manage the risks associated with their everyday decision-making.
Adopting an inclusive and relevant approach, together with a comprehensive cross-society effort, can help to accelerate reductions in harmful drinking.