Distortions. Alcohol harms in perspective

I’ve been spending a lot of time reading, thinking, and talking about current “low risk alcohol guidelines” released by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction. This is an organization that is at least partly funded by Health Canada and has government representatives on its board, so when people internationally look to these guidelines and say “Canada is recommending…” or “Canadians are recommending…” they are not entirely incorrect. Initially on twitter I would correct that this is a group of Canadian researchers, not the government or Canadians in general. I would have to modify that statement because there is a lot of government involvement in the CCSA and it even claims Vice Regal Patronage (the governor general supports its work).

That said, there is so much wrong with the report that I wrote a twitter thread that seems to have gone viral (is over 300,000 views and 1000 retweets viral?). And although some viral tweets might achieve that status because they upset people, I think in this case my comments provided an alternative viewpoint that people craved, because, let’s be honest, much of the media just took the evidence as fact and interviewed CCSA reps as experts interpreting that fact. That initial approach, I will say, has begun to change, although I’ve had to have some pretty impassioned conversations with reporters to explain how data works, what moralistic discourses are, and why alcohol might not be as bad as it seems.

In the next few blog entries I am going to address a few discrete elements of the report in an attempt to unpack some things. You can follow along by downloading a copy of the report here (this will open another tab in your browser). First topic: relative risk and the example of cirrhosis.

(c) Dan Malleck 2023

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