The Human Truth Foundation

The Social & Medical Effects and How to Combat Misuse

By Vexen Crabtree 2015

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#alcohol #health #sociology

There is nothing wrong with drinking modest and sensible amounts of alcohol but fitness, physical health, mental health and long-term health all suffer as a result of medium- or heavy- drinking1 and the health risks to the baby when pregnant mothers drink2 are well-known. Aside from the effects on the individual, alcohol misuse impacts on entire economies3 via increased health service costs, policing costs and lost days' work. Worldwide, alcohol misuse is "among the top five risk factors for disease, disability and death" and is a "cause of more than 200 disease and injury conditions in individuals, most notably alcohol dependence, liver cirrhosis, cancers and injuries"4. "In 2012... 5.9% of all global deaths, were attributable to alcohol consumption"5. Deaths from chronic alcohol misuse have been rising for decades, and so has violence, abuse, vandalism and crime all associated with alcohol over-use. The aggression and crime associated with alcohol in some Western countries infringes on the human rights of those who want nothing to do with such behaviour. Many of the social effects of alcohol are psychological and cultural; i.e., people don't have to behave criminally or destructively whilst drunk - it is a culturally learned behaviour. Experiments have shown that behaviour can be controlled: Those who do not wish to behave badly whilst drunk, will not do so.

1. International Consumption Statistics6

#islam #russia

Alcohol Consumption (2010)7
CountryPer Capita7
6Saudi Arabia0.2
14Timor-Leste (E. Timor)0.6
19Myanmar (Burma)0.7
Alcohol Consumption (2010)7
CountryPer Capita7
203S. Africa11
200New Zealand10.9
197St Lucia10.4

The data in the charts to the right shows total annual consumption per person aged 15+, in 2010 and comes from the latest World Health Organisation (2014) report on international alcohol consumption. The measurement is of total litres of pure alcohol. The worldwide average in 2010 was equal 6.2 litres8.

It is apparent that the worst rates of consumption is found in Russia and countries that were once part of the Soviet bloc in Europe, followed by a general smattering of other European countries. "In general, the greater the economic wealth of a country, the more alcohol is consumed [and] high-income countries have ... the highest prevalence of heavy episodic drinking"9.

The best rates (the lowest) are all in highly Muslim countries, whom try to prohibit alcohol consumption.

2. The Medical Effects of Alcohol

In the Immediate Term:

Immediately, alcohol makes you react slower, make less good decisions and impairs the ability to perform accurate tasks. In harsh conditions, you fare much less well; to drink when very hot or very cold is suicidal. It makes you less alert.10. Alcohol makes you feel warm because it causes your capillaries to allow more blood to the surface of the skin; but this also increases the rate that you lose heat through your skin. You think you are warmer, but you are actually losing heat quicker. Alcohol simultaneously makes you more confident but less capable of acting and thinking.

In the Short Term:

An Army publication, relying on expert medical data, finds that alcohol has the following effects:

  • Interferes with fitness; heart and lungs work less efficiently
  • It damages muscles
  • It can lead to increased weight
  • It increases the risk of accidents and injuries
  • It damages the immune system, making you more prone to infection
  • It increases the time needed to recover from injuries and illnesses
  • It causes dehydration, making exercise dangerous and unpleasant


Even a moderate drinker gets ill more, has more accidents and is less fit. Certainly, no sportsman wants to be anything but a light drinker!

In the Long Term:

Because alcohol provides calories [...] heavy drinkers often reduce their intake of food. But the calories provided by alcohol are empty; they do not supply the nutrients essential for health. Alcohol also contributes directly to malnutrition by impairing the digestion of good and absorption of vitamins.

In older chronic alcohol abusers, a deficiency of B-complex vitamins can cause amnestic syndrome, a severe loss of memory for both recent and long-past events. These memory gaps are often filled in by reporting imaginary events (confabulation) that are highly improbable. [...]

Other common physiological changes include damage to the endocrine glands and pancreas, heart failure, hypertension, stroke, and capillary hemorrhages, which are responsible for the swelling and redness in the face, and especially of the nose, of chronic alcohol abusers.

Prolonged use of alcohol appears to damage brain cells, especially those in the frontal lobes, causing cortical atrophy and other changes in structure (Parkins, 1975). Alcohol also reduces the effectiveness of the immune system, resulting in increased susceptibility to infection and cancer.

Heavy alcohol consumption during pregnancy is the leading known cause of mental retardation. The growth of the fetus is slowed, and cranial, facial and limb anomalies are produced. The condition is known as fetal alcohol syndrome. Even moderate drinking can produce less severe but undesirable effects on the fetus, leading the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to counsel total abstention during pregnancy as the safest course.

"Abnormal Psychology" by Davison and Neale (1997)14

Cirrhosis of the liver is a disease in which some liver cells become engorged with fat and protein, impeding their function; some cells die, triggering an inflammatory process. When scar tissue develops, blood flow is obstructed. This disease is the ninth biggest cause of the death in the USA (1990), and is primarily caused by alcohol overuse12.

3. Alcohol, Crime and Violence

There was one allusion above to the fact that the social effects of alcohol are cultural. This is discussed later.

4. Parenting6


The UK's National Health Service states that "experts are still unsure exactly how much alcohol is safe for you to have while you're pregnant, so the safest approach is not to drink at all while you're expecting" and says that this line is the one taken by the Department of Health, and if that you do drink, the quantity should only be equivalent to one small glass of wine once or twice a week, and this advice is mirrored by other organisations such as NICE and Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists16. The harm to babies comes from the fact that alcohol's small molecules pass very easily into the blood stream, and are passed on quickly to a fetus. Although a small drink may seem like nothing to you, it can harm the development of babies in the womb in a number of ways. Cases have gone through UK courts involving children who were declared medically to have suffered developmental damage as a result of their mother's drinking (and in one case the mother was repeatedly warned by authorities that she was damaging her baby, but continued drinking heavily)17.

If you drink heavily during pregnancy, you double your risk of miscarriage and increase the chances of having a baby with a major abnormality. The risks start to rise at the equivalent of four measures of spirits of glasses of wine, or two pints of beer of cider per day. [...] For reasons that are unknown, babies of women over the age of 35 fare worse than those of younger women, and black babies are seven times more vulnerable than white ones, possibly for genetic reasons.

"Healthy Pregnancy" by Gill Thorn (2003)2

Public Health England reported in 2013 that parental behaviour is the basis for many bad habits later in life, specifically mentioning excessive alcohol consumption, and stating that prevention and early intervention are both much better than trying to reverse learned bad behaviour18. The World Health Organisation pointed out in 2014 that:

A family history of alcohol use disorders is considered a major vulnerability factor for both genetic and environmental reasons. [...] Parents with alcohol use disorders ... increase the likelihood that their children will develop drinking patterns associated with high risk of alcohol use disorders when they are introduced to alcohol. Heavy drinking by parents affects family functioning, the parent-child relationship and parenting practices, which in turn affects child development adversely.

"Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health" by World Health Organisation (2014)19

Children of alcoholic parents have polarised reactions to alcohol:

The findings by Valliant (1983) show that children who grow up in households with an alcoholic parent are as a group on average as likely to become teetotal as develop alcohol problems. [...] Crabbe and Goldman (1992) concluded that: 'As children growing up in alcoholic households have an increased risk of becoming either alcoholic or abstinent, it seems that increased risk of alcoholism depends partly on how a person reacts to his or her environment.

"Chaos and Intoxication" by Alan Dean (1997)20

5. The Behavioural Effects of Alcohol are Socially Learned

Whether people become 'addicted' to alcohol or not is partially dependent on genetics; but upbringing and choice play a larger part.

The evidence presented [...] demonstrates clearly that physiological and biochemical responses to alcohol and drug use are at least in part inherited. A wide range of evidence, from adoption and twin studies to the identification of biological markers for responses to drug and alcohol use, have supported the findings that certain traits associated with use are inherited.

"Chaos and Intoxication" by Alan Dean (1997)21

Our behaviour when drunk is a function of our character and our expectations about 'how drunk people act'. In cultures and paradigms where alcohol-fuelled violence (such as fighting in a pub or attacking the spouse) or crime (such as street vandalism and destructive behaviour), is not seen as the result of alcohol, then, drunk people do not behave in that way. In other words, to prevent petit crime associated with alcohol you could simply educate people, and get them to internalize, the truth that drunken behaviour isn't intrinsically violent. They could then learn to control themselves whilst drunk. This shows that alcohol-inspired drunken behaviour is psychosomatic. A series of experiments in the 1970s provided supporting evidence.

Book CoverIt appears that some of the short-term effects of ingesting small amounts of alcohol are as strongly related to the drinker's expectations about the effects of the drug as they are to its chemical action on the body. For example, alcohol is commonly thought to stimulate aggression and increase sexual responsiveness. Research has shown, however, that these reactions may not be caused by alcohol itself but by the drinker's beliefs about alcohol's effects. In experiments demonstrating these points, participants are told that they are consuming a quantity of alcohol when they are actually given an alcohol-free beverage with its taste disguised. They subsequently become more aggressive (Lang et al., 1975) and report increased sexual arousal (Wilson & Lawson, 1976). People who actually drink alcohol also report increased sexual arousal, even though alcohol makes them less aroused physiologically (Farkas & Wilson, 1976). Once again, cognitions have a demonstratably powerful effect on behaviour.

"Abnormal Psychology" by Davison and Neale (1997)22

The 1980s saw further research complement and reinforce the evidence that expectation and assumption about drunken behaviour is an important cause of that behaviour:

In the 1980 book Advances in Substance Abuse, G.A. Marlatt and D.J. Rohsenow report that most of the "social effects" of alcohol may be due to people's expectations about the drug. Subjects who drank tonic water but thought it was alcohol showed most of the 'classic' symptoms of intoxication, while subjects who drank alcohol but thought it was tonic water failed to get "high". [...]

Marlatt and Rohsenow also tested alcoholics by giving them tonic water but telling them it was vodka. The alcoholics experienced the same "craving" for more alcohol after drinking the tonic water as they typically did when consuming alcohol. They did not report this craving after drinking vodka they thought was tonic water.

Marlatt and Rohsenow conclude that the setting in which alcohol is consumed and the drinker's expectations are even more influential in determining the drinker's reactions than are the physical effects of the alcohol itself.

"Understanding Human Behavior" by James V. McConnel (1986)23

From the 1990s, the Home Office Drugs Prevention Office has been investigating the behaviour of drugs and alcohol users. They comment that:

The role of alcohol in combination with other drugs should not be ignored. Violence seems to be more closely linked with excessive intake of alcohol than with many illegal drugs [...] - though there is room to argue that this is a culturally mediated effect rather than a necessary effect of alcohol.

"Drugs Misuse and the Criminal Justice System" by Prof. Michael Hough24

Placebo experiments in the 1970s on the effects of fake alcohol consumption, in the 1980s on the psychology of expectation and in the 1990s on criminal behaviour have all found that peoples' reactions to alcohol are partially determined by what they think the effects of alcohol should be, especially when it comes to crime and aggression. To curb street violence, increased education on what the effects of alcohol really are is required, and so is changing the nature of the environment in which alcohol is drunk (and especially where binge-drinking occurs). Both of these things require a change of the basic, common drinking habits of those who frequent pubs.

6. UK Trash Culture Institutionalizes Alcohol

#france #italy #UK

In 1998 the UK government reported that 40 000 deaths per year are alcohol-related13. Per-capita consumption of alcohol in the UK has doubled since the late 1950s, whilst in other developed countries such as France and Italy, it has more than halved25. The price of alcohol, in real terms, is half what it was in the 1970s25. Between 1995 and 2001, binge drinking increased by 35% in the UK25. Despite government efforts to reduce excessive drinking, according to the NHS "hundreds more" children are admitted to hospital after drinking [in 2005] than five years ago, diagnosed with alcohol poisoning and "behavioural disorders because of excessive drinking"26: In 2009 this was confirmed by "an OECD report identifying its teenagers as the world's drunkest, among other dubious accolades"27. Death rates from cirrhosis, primarily caused by excessive drinking, "the increase is reflected in rising death rates from chronic liver disease, the primary cause of which is too much drink. In the 30 years between 1970 and 2000, death by cirrhosis for people aged 25 to 44 rose an astonishing 900%, from about 80 cases a year to more than 700".25.

Alcohol-related crime commands the single biggest use of police manpower in the UK and alcoholism and binge drinking is by far the biggest social problem that British society faces. UK holidaymakers and football fans abroad are bemoaned as the most drunken and most unruly of all foreign travellers. It disgraces the UK; other European countries such as Italy and France have no such problems. Binge drinking is not only a problem acknowledged by health and government officials, but it is also something they think all citizens ought to be warned about... its definition appears in the UK Citizenship Test lexicon's list of words that immigrants ought to learn28.


7. How to Reduce Cultural Alcohol Abuse


We have seen that light drinking can have some beneficial medical effects on the body, and the World Health Organisation report that the least problematic way to drink alcohol is with food29, in sensible quantities. Unfortunately, many people drink far too much daily or weekly, and binge drink, which is then related to alcoholism, violence, crime, sexual offences, ill-health, mental disease and wider social problems.

There's no mystery about how to curb this kind of boozing. In Alcohol - No Ordinary Commodity, a book part-funded by the World Health Organisation, [it is argued] that we know what policies are likely to be most successful. [...] Top of the pile, they conclude, are increasing the price of booze and limiting its availability. [...] In the UK today, alcohol costs roughly half in real terms what it did in the 1970s [...]. Governments everywhere have shown a serious reluctance to keep taxes on alcohol in line with inflation, let alone use them to temper soaring rates of drinking.

New Scientist (2004)12

The WHO's 2014 report did not deviate from the already well-known advice above:

The accumulated research findings indicate that population-based policy options - such as the use of taxation to regulate the demand for alcoholic beverages, restricting their availability and implementing bans on alcohol advertising - are the "best buys" in reducing the harmful use of alcohol as they are highly cost-effective in reducing the alcohol attributable deaths and disabilities at population level.

Setting low limits (0.02% to 0.05%) for blood alcohol concentration (BAC) and enforcingthem by random breath testing (RBT) are effective not only in reducing road traffic injuries,but also in reducing alcohol consumption among drivers.

"Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health" by World Health Organisation (2014)30

Raising the price of alcohol, they have shown, also reduces alcohol-related dangers such as car accidents, liver disease, violence and crime. "What's more, younger kids with less money are the most sensitive to price hikes. 'A key finding is that increases in prices are effective in reducing not just drinking, ' says Chaloupka, 'but binge drinking, especially in kids.' That's especially good news because younger drinkers tend to be more influenced by group behaviour".12

Other methods to reduce alcohol use, apart from raising alcohol taxes, are: restricting hours or days of sale, lowering the blood alcohol limits for driving and restricting density of retail outlets"12. Despite the positive effects of reducing the legal limit for drivers, "the UK has the highest legal limit for drivers' blood alcohol in Europe"12 (which is 80mg of blood alcohol)10. It seems, perversely, that the UK has the most problems with alcohol and the least safe road laws!

Some methods that do not work at reducing binge drinking are: School education, voluntary advertising codes and alternative entertainment. The results of market manipulation are far more effective than education. And unfortunately, it appears that the heaviest and most aggressive alcohol abusers are less affected by price hikes31. The trick is, then, to curb intake before users develop patterns of heavy consumption.

8. Misc

9. A Brief History of Alcohol Use from Ancient Times to Modern6


The use of alcoholic beverages has been an integral part of many cultures for thousands of years. Prior to the modern era, fermented alcoholic beverages were known in all tribal and village societies except in Australia, Oceania and North America. In societies where there was no aboriginal alcohol consumption, the encounter with alcoholic beverages was often abrupt and highly problematic. Where alcohol was traditionally consumed, production of alcoholic beverages commonly occurred on a small scale as a household or artisanal activity, particularly when and where agricultural surpluses were available. Drinking alcohol was thus often an occasional and communal activity, associated with particular communal festivals. There are many places in the world today where versions of these traditional patterns originating from tribal and village societies persist.

[Commercial] production and consumption ... developed in European empires ... during early modern industrialization. ... This increased supply and availability often proved disastrous for indigenous economies and public health [and] often catastrophic elsewhere in the world. By the nineteenth century, leaders of industry were viewing alcohol as a major impediment to industrial livelihoods.

"Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health"
World Health Organisation (2014)35

10. Benefits of the Light Drinking of Alcohol, Especially Wine

Research has indicated that people who regularly drink very modest, sensible amounts of alcohol tend to live longer, and enjoy better health, than either abstainers or those who abuse alcohol. Drinking more than the recommended limits can drastically reverse those benefits and greatly increase the risks of disease and death.

"Alcohol And Drugs", British Army publication10

Tantalizing evidence suggests positive health benefits for some people. Light drinking (fewer than three drinks a day), especially of wine, has been related to decreased risk for coronary heart disease in both men and women.

"Abnormal Psychology" by Davison and Neale (1997)14

Current edition: 2015 Jan 05
Originally published 2006 Oct 24
Parent page: The Human Truth Foundation

All #tags used on this page - click for more:

#alcohol #australia #france #health #islam #italy #russia #sociology #UK

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References: (What's this?)

Book Cover

Book Cover

Book Cover

Book Cover

New Scientist. Magazine. Published by Reed Business Information Ltd, London, UK. UK based weekly science news paper (not subject to scientific peer-review though).

The Economist. Published by The Economist Group, Ltd. A weekly newspaper in magazine format, famed for its accuracy, wide scope and intelligent content. See for some commentary on this source..

(2008) Life in the UK Test: Study Guide. 3rd edition. Originally published 2006. Current version published by Red Squirrel Publishing, London, UK. Amazon link is to a newer edition.

Davison & Neale
(1997) Abnormal Psychology. Hardback book. 7th edition. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Amazon link points to a newer edition than the one I've used here.

Dean, Alan
(1997) Chaos and Intoxication. Hardback book. 1st edition. Published by Routledge. Alan Dean is lecturer in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Hull.

Goldacre, Ben. MD.
(2008) Bad Science. Published by Fourth Estate, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, London, UK.

Hough, Michael Prof.
Drugs Misuse and the Criminal Justice System. Published by Drugs Prevention Initiative, Home Office, UK. Since 1990 Home Office Drugs Prevention Initiative has piloted 20 small teams working with local communities, which was then expanded into 12 larger teams each covering a larger geographical area of the UK. Over 1500 drugs prevention projects were supported. The strategy: "to form new partnerships in the community, to build on past experience and to generate new activities". The work of the teams is building up considerable experience of drugs prevention activity.

McConnel, James V.
(1986) Understanding Human Behavior. Hardback book. 5th edition. Originally published 1974. Current version published by CBS College Publishing, Holt Rinehart and Winston, New York, USA.

Myers, David
(1999) Social Psychology. Paperback book. 6th ('international') edition. Originally published 1983. Current version published by McGraw Hill.

Peters, Michael Dr
(2011) Family Doctor Home Advisor. Hardback book. 4th edition. Published by Dorling Kindersley Limited, London, UK. Published for the British Medical Association.

Public Health England (PHE)
(2013) Our priorities for 2013/14. Booklet published in 2013 April. PHE are the government body responsible for national health and wellbeing. PHE publication gateway number 2013007.

Secretary of State for Health
(1998) Our Healthier Nation: A Contract for Health. Government consultation paper presented to Parliament (CM3852).

Sheppherd, Joseph
(1992) The Bahá'í Faith. Paperback book. 1993 reprint. Published by Element Books Ltd, Shaftesbury, Dorset.

Thorn, Gill
(2003) Healthy Pregnancy. Published by Hamlyn, Octopus Publishing Group Ltd, London, UK.

World Health Organisation. (WHO)
(2014) Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health. A copy can be found on the WHO website. Accessed 2015 Jan 04. It "presents a comprehensive perspective on the global, regional and country consumption of alcohol, patterns of drinking, health consequences and policy responses in Member States" and was published in Geneva on 2014 May 12.


  1. Peters (2011) chapter "Healthy Living" p28-32. Added to this page on 2015 Jan 05.^
  2. Thorn (2003) p20-21. Added to this page on 2015 Jan 05.^^
  3. WHO (2014) chapter 1 section 1.6. Added to this page on 2015 Jan 04.^
  4. WHO (2014) chapter 1. Added to this page on 2015 Jan 04.^
  5. WHO (2014) chapter 3. Added to this page on 2015 Jan 04.^
  6. Added to this page on 2015 Jan 05.^^^
  7. WHO (2014) Appendix 1. Alcohol Per Capita Consumption in liters of pure alcohol, 15+ years age population, consumed in 2010. Lower is better.^
  8. WHO (2014) chapter 2, section 2.1.1. Added to this page on 2015 Jan 04.^
  9. WHO (2014) chapter 2, section Added to this page on 2015 Jan 04.^
  10. Alcohol And Drugs British Army Publication AC 64243 (n.d.) accessed 2006.^^^^^
  11. McConnel (1986) p79.^
  12. Article on Binge Drinking p29+ by Alison Motluk in New Scientist (2004 Aug 21) vol.183 no.2461.^^^^
  13. Secretary of State for Health (1998) .^^
  14. Davison & Neale (1997) p300.^^
  15. "Drugs Misuse and the Criminal Justice System, results of the Home Office's Drugs Prevention Initiative" compiled by Prof. Michael Hough.^
  16. NHS article "Alcohol in pregnancy" on (page last reviewed, 2013 May 22). Accessed 2015 Jan 05.^
  17. BBC News article "'Stronger warnings needed' over pregnant women drinking" (2014 Nov 04). Accessed 2015 Jan 05.^
  18. PHE (2013) . Added to this page on 2015 Jan 05.^
  19. WHO (2014) chapter 1 section 1.5.3. Added to this page on 2015 Jan 05.^
  20. Dean (1997) p21.^
  21. Dean (1997) p20.^
  22. Davison & Neale (1997) p299. Added to this page on 2007 Apr 01, and I've posted this quote and some commentary to entry "Drunken behaviour is related to expectations and the environment".^
  23. McConnel (1986) p80-81.^
  24. Hough p12.^
  25. BBC News article "UK youths 'among worst in Europe'" (2006 Nov 02).^
  26. "UK Health Care, The Facts" edited by Peter Orton and John Fry, 1995. Published in the UK by Kluwer Academic Publishers, Lancaster, p150.^
  27. The Economist (2009 Sep 05) article "Vice and social class" p39.^
  28. Life in the UK Test: Study Guide (2008) . 'Binge Drinking' was one of only 9 words beginning with B.^
  29. WHO (2014) chapter 1 section 1.2.2. Added to this page on 2015 Jan 04.^
  30. WHO (2014) chapter 1, section 1.7.1. Added to this page on 2015 Jan 04.^
  31. The Economist (2009 Aug 01) article "Does a tax on junk food make sense?" p67. Added to this page on 2015 Jan 05.^
  32. Myers (1999) p183.^
  33. WHO (2014) chapter 2, section 2.2.2. Added to this page on 2015 Jan 04.^
  34. Davison & Neale (1997) p318.^
  35. WHO (2014) chapter 1, section 1.1, references removed. Added to this page on 2015 Jan 05.^
  36. Metro UK newspaper (2006 Nov 17). Front page article, "Hospitals swamped by young drinkers".

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