Reflections on drinking: From one extreme to the other

These are strange times indeed! Under influences we have discussed time and again, extreme views are gaining wider and wider currency. We have reached a point where too many people are suspicious of, or even outright dismiss, such notions as “nuance,” “balance,” “exercising judgement” and “moderation.” The world is, more and more, black and white. There is virtually no room for grey, let alone any other colour.

This Manichean good-or-evil outlook extends to alcohol and drinking. We see it in some of the comments on Éduc’alcool’s activities. They range from, “Mind your own business and don’t tell us what to do; we’ll drink as much as we like,” to “What do you mean, we can have 2 or 3 drinks a day? You want to turn us into alcoholics?” These are just two examples, and not the most outrageous.

In other words, it’s either abstinence or abuse. Nothing in between. Alcohol is either no big deal or it’s the devil incarnate.

However, to treat alcohol as an ordinary substance that can be consumed without consequence—as governments here and elsewhere too often do—is to deny an amply demonstrated scientific, social, cultural and economic reality.

Alcohol—particularly when consumed in excess—increases the risk of many diseases. This is a proven fact. And it costs the Quebec economy nearly $4 billion a year. That’s not negligible, it’s huge.

Yet our society calls for extreme caution when it comes to cannabis but tends to take a laissez-faire approach to alcohol.

On the other hand, let’s be grateful that we haven’t reached the extremes seen in the United Kingdom and France.

In the U.K., Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies, speaking in her official capacity before a Commons select committee, made this recommendation: “Do as I do when I reach for my glass of wine – think ‘Do I want the glass of wine or do I want to raise my own risk of cancer?”. So much for atmosphere.

Across the Channel, France’s public health agency recommends that drinking limits be the same for men and women, for reasons that warrant quoting (make sure you’re sitting down): “While science has proven there are differences in absolute risk between men and women, making distinctions according to sex could raise questions, possibly with underlying accusations of sexism or hampering women’s emancipation.” Yes, you read correctly. That’s exactly what they said. So much for science.

Faced with unjustifiable trivialization on one hand and delusional nonsense on the other, we must maintain a sense of proportion and remember that, in every aspect of our lives, moderation is always in good taste.

Hubert Sacy
Director General, Éduc’alcool