A review of ‘Drink?: The New Science of Alcohol and Your Health’
In order to tell at what point the marginal cost of drinking exceeds the marginal benefit we also need a full accounting of the benefits people derive from drinking alcohol. Evidently many people believe or behave as if alcohol makes their lives better and gives them pleasure in some ways, and I expect they are right about that (I'm talking gross benefits, not necessarily net benefits).
I have no doubt the costs are also substantial and it's likely people in the UK and Ireland drink more than is optimal for their own wellbeing.
But given the measurement problems I don't really know how someone can know with any confidence where the optimal level of alcohol consumption lies (or that the optimal is zero).
Regardless, I do believe people should have a right to do things others feel are misguided and not in their selfish interest (barring truly exceptional cases). Living in a society without that as the general rule sounds very unpleasant and inasmuch as we don't follow that principle now I mostly do find it unpleasant.
You are talking about a product that people voluntarily consume, and there’s not even an attempt here to measure the enjoyment they get from it.
Seems to me that the problem with prohibitionists and those who want to reduce consumption of drugs is that they see that you can measure the costs of drug use, but we have no way of measuring the benefits. So because only the costs are measurable they assume it’s the only thing that exists.
You worry about the norm of alcohol consumption, I worry about the norm created by this kind of thinking as a threat to human liberty and happiness.
I disagree. https://snowdon.substack.com/p/temperance-nutt
"A glass to hold gives us something to do with our hands in awkward situations, particularly now smoking has become so vilified."
when i first read this in the book i thought it was a parody!
"Alcohol can also exacerbate mental health problems, especially anxiety and depression. One major American study suggested that up to a quarter of young alcoholics have a social anxiety disorder."
Alcohol is famous for reducing anxiety, so it's not surprising that anxious people drink a lot as self medication. You got the causality arrow wrong.
Anyone who pushes booze on folks or knocks them for being sober is a jerk. I can agree with you that the near-ubiquitous pressure to drink is probably overkill. Suggesting moderation is fine. But you lose me when you:
-Universalize your experience onto others. You don't enjoy it; that's fine. A -lot- of folks do. I don't want to speak for you, but this is not right vs. wrong. It's different strokes for different folks.
-Make incredibly subjective statements with massive implications that merit magnitudes more evidence than you or the author presented, e.g. "this seems like a sound policy", "alcohol is bad"; "alcohol occupies a sinister position...".
-Make -large- leaps based on limited data: e.g. that relationships and family lives would be healthier. That is a giant claim that's impossible to come close to proving, and flies in the face of my experience.
-Presume that government's or social norms' jobs is/are to optimize society towards some collective end, rather than facilitate individual prosperity...much of which is subjective. We all die; our time is finite, and exercising control of our daily activities is central to a meaningful existence.
-Imply that drinkers are at the mercy of industry groups and peer pressure. I'd guess it's the other way around: darn near everyone who drinks -loves- it, and -that- informs supply/messaging.
Alcohol has helped me befriend strangers; grieve a dead parent; dance at weddings; learn more about colleagues/clients; console friends; bond with family; open up about things I normally wouldn't; talk to romantic partners I normally would lack confidence to; etc.
Please leave those of us who are enjoying alcohol alone, and stop pushing these notions of a uniform idea of happiness/utility/"the good life".
Do you not think the fact that you list three separate estimates of the productivity cost of alcohol in the United Kingdom, and that they range from £1.4 billion to £20 billion, suggests that this particular figure is mostly guesswork?
The CDC estimated the cost of hangovers to the American economy as $249bn in 2010. The Institute of Alcohol Studies estimates a cost of £1.4bn a year for British productivity.
Such a vast difference in estimates just shows that both estimates are basically garbage.
"You can get most (perhaps all) of those social benefits without alcohol."
Can you, though?
Maybe. Maybe not. This reminds me of Bryan Caplan and his ideas for abolishing education and borders. Might work, might not. The change is too radical to really know.
Plus - societies and individuals that don't drink don't perform particularly well relative to those that do.
The claim that the French wine industry did better following increased alcohol restrictions makes some sense, as the wine industry takes up the premium portion of the entire alcohol industry so the wine industry may benefit if drinkers go from drinking two cheap shots to one more expensive glass of wine.
Being a little drunk feel really nice, though.
I agree with the thrust of this article, however I would question a central argument:
"Left unaddressed is the presumption that alcohol is necessary to any of those (good and often great) rituals. It’s not. You can get most (perhaps all) of those social benefits without alcohol."
While it is acknowledged that "It would be very tough to change those cultural norms", the question remains very open how a cradle-to-grave transformation of rituals could occur in practice. Surely rituals need replacement, rather than assuming simple elimination would be a true possibility?
Particularly considering the ease with which people can home-brew alcohol (e.g. people in prison can easily produce alcohol from within their own cells with some pieces of fruit or packets of sugar stuffed into a bottle of water and left on a heating source).
The scale and profundity of the cultural change being suggested here is underplayed for rhetorical purposes. The only evidence-based suggestion I could glean was the possibility of a society converting to Islam en-masse! I'm being glib, of course, but the question remains.
I'm sober two years and my life is so much better without alcohol -- but I'm not on a crusade against it. Those who can live happy, healthy lives and consume alcohol as a part of that, well, that's great. I don't like trying to add up the social costs (i.e. overall health care, productivity, etc.) because those types of calculations can be very nebulous -- as illustrating by the range of productivity estimates established here.
People need to left to make their own decisions -- but that should include the decision to NOT drink, and to openly address a drinking problem (or other addiction) head on, without stigma. If we can continue to normalize a pub and social culture that does not include alcohol we should do so. I applaud what both Heineken and Guinness have done in this regard with PR (yes, self-interested advertising) campaigns around their non-alcoholic products. There should also be no shame associated with, or barriers to, people seeking help with addiction.
Just a few thoughts, and ... zero explanation needed ...
I think there's merit in Scotland's minimum pricing. This acts as a tax on cheap alcohol (at least from the consumer's perspective) which is mostly drunk by problem drinkers. Moderate drinkers are mostly unaffected.
That said, I agree with other commenters that it is a mistake to ignore the first order effects of alcohol and only focus on second-order ones (like Nutt's bizarre statement about having something to do with your hands). Drinking alcohol is enjoyable and it makes socialising easier. Non-addict consumers are evidently willing to pay significant amounts for the value they derive from alcohol, so the benefits must be substantial.
EDIT: Having looked at the research, it appears that minimum pricing has had more negative effects than positive ones, which I would not have expected. Opinion changed.
Alcohol is a drug of despair, only one step up from crokodile.
In countries without a drinking culture, such as Islamic cultures, they tend to develop other cultures such as hookah smoking. Doesn’t seem like much of an improvement.