Alcohol Use Disorders (64) What is the role of the alcohol industry? (2)

19 February, 2024

I asked ChatGPT for examples of misinformation by the alcohol industry. It identified five types of misinformaiton:

1. Downplaying Health Risks

2. Promotion of Moderate Drinking

3. Targeting Vulnerable Groups

4. Misleading Advertising

5. Funding Biased Research

With regard to #1, we have already mentioned how the industry rebuts the link between alcohol and cancer [ ]

On the question of #2. It is easy to see why the industry promotes moderate drinking. In most countries, moderate drinkers are the majority of consumers and therefore the main target source of income for the industry. Alocohol is culturally engrained and an integral part of socialising in many cultures. It would be very much in the industry's interestes (profit) to increase the percentage of moderate drinkers in the population. We can imagine that it must have been music to the alcohol industry's ears when research suggested that moderate drinking might protect against heart disease.

Even GPT supports the industry in this respect: "While moderate alcohol consumption may indeed have some health benefits, such as a reduced risk of heart disease, critics suggest that the alcohol industry sometimes exaggerates these benefits while understating the risks. This can lead to confusion among consumers about what constitutes moderate drinking and its actual health effects."

Regrettably, as we have already learned from this discussion, different health professionals give different advice on this point, and the same is true of academic websites. As Richard Velleman has said, "The fundamental reason for the conflicting information is that the science is not yet clear (although both ‘sides’ in this debate argue that it IS clear)" Health professionals (and even whole academic institutions) are failing to communicate uncertainty. The result is confusion and loss of trust in health professionals and institutions.

I would be interested to know whether and how we can improve our collective communication so that the general public has more consistent and objective information.

Throughout, every person has a degree of confirmation bias: taking note of things that confirm our existing beliefs and behaviour. Moderate alcohol drinkers will hear "moderate drinking may have a cardioprotective effect" and will happilyy take this as fact. The picture is complicated further by popular understanding of "moderate drinking". The UK definition is an average of two units per day maximum (one can of beer, or one large glass of wine). I suspect many people see moderate drinking as more than this, and will happily continue accordingly.

'If you already have a glass of red wine with your evening meal, drinking it in limited amounts may improve your heart health.' Mayo Clinic

'There is no known safe level of drinking, it seems reasonable that the quality of life gained from an occasional drink might be deemed greater than the potential harm' World Health Organization

DrinkAware is a service funded mainly by the alcohol industry, that provides 'impartial, evidence-based information, advice and practical resources; raising awareness of alcohol and its harms and working collaboratively with partners.

I looked up their information on Alcohol and heart health, expecting to find a claim that small amounts of alcohol can be cardioprotective, and instead found this:

"Regularly having just a couple of pints of lager can weaken your heart and shrink your arteries. This makes it harder for blood to be pumped and pass through, which increases your blood pressure. That same pressure can lead to blood clots - which can cause strokes and brain damage." (!)

Best wishes, Neil

HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of HIFA (Healthcare Information For All), a global health community that brings all stakeholders together around the shared goal of universal access to reliable healthcare information. HIFA has 20,000 members in 180 countries, interacting in four languages and representing all parts of the global evidence ecosystem. HIFA is administered by Global Healthcare Information Network, a UK-based nonprofit in official relations with the World Health Organization. Email: