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The alcohol puzzle

10 November 2021

For many centuries, mankind has enjoyed the buzz that is to be had from the drinking of beverages laced with ethyl alcohol.

This chemical is most often produced as a waste product of yeast organisms as they feed on sugars and although it has many valuable uses in industry, medicine and other areas, its effect on the brain as a recreational drug is perhaps the most familiar application.

The manufacturing of alcoholic drinks is a massive industry that pays huge profits to those who brew, ferment and sometimes distil the stuff but governments also rake in billions of dollars from the often stiff excise taxes that are applied to the product. By the way, have you ever noticed how governments are always quick to add taxes to the things that people enjoy?

Unfortunately, the over-use of alcohol takes a heavy toll on the physical and mental health of our society and, like most drugs, can trap those who have addictive personalities.

So today I ask the question: Is alcohol good or bad for us?

The reason I ask this question is because there has been a mountain of different reports published over the years, many of them contradictary. How can a substance be at the same time life-extending and life-shortening?

The catalyst for today's column is this report published on the Science Daily website.

According to this report, "moderate" drinking provides a measurable level of protection against heart disease in older people. The article also states "that moderate drinking of alcohol is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and a lowering of mortality from all causes -- when compared to zero alcohol consumption".

Pass my beer!

Hang on a minute though, it was only three years ago that the WHO published its findings that There is no safe level of alcohol.

Surely they can't both be right?

To throw more confusion into the ring, how about the health benefits of red wine and the resveratrol it contains?

The only thing that is clear here is that regardless of whether you think alcohol is a toxin or a health-food there's plenty of evidence to support your case.

What we do know for sure however, is that alcohol abuse causes immense societal and health problems. Family violence often involves alcohol and diseases caused by or aggravated by the substance cost taxpayers a rather large fortune every year. Of course those who call on the health system to fix their self-induced injuries as a result of the bottle will argue that the taxes they've paid on their booze over the years more than covers the costs of their treatment. That's debatable however.

Perhaps the most annoying aspect of the way we treat alcohol is the inconsistency governments show towards its use.

Why is it that you can buy as much plonk as you want down at the local SuperLiquor store or even the supermarket -- but being caught with a trace of marijuana on your possession is a crime?

Now I'm nothing more than a very light drinker (who else do you know has actually had a bottle of bourbon go off because it's sat around for so long without being drunk?) and I don't partake of any other recreational drugs but I don't see why dope is treated so differently to alcohol and tobacco from a legal perspective.

Maybe the reasons for this inequity become a little clearer when you look at just how much money the government collects by way of taxes on alcohol and tobbaco. In 2019 (the latest figure I could find), the government scored three quarters of a billion dollars as a result of the excise tax on alcohol; add in the GST levied as well and you can see why this is a great earner for the state's coffers.

By comparison, dope is just too easy to grow at home so there'd be no easy way for the government to clip the ticket if it were to legalise the possession and sale of what many claim is a "safer" drug.

The way I see it... if dope is too dangerous to be legalised then why the hell are we still selling alcohol to anyone over the age of 21?

Yes... just follow the money folks.

So, with Christmas almost upon us, you can either enjoy a glass or two of wine, beer or your favourite Christmas spirit without guilt -- after all, the studies prove that "moderate" drinking will extend your lifespan.

However, if you're a tea-totaller who despises the consumption of alcohol then you too can stand tall and produce evidence that even the smallest amount of alcohol will be harming whoever ingests it.

Everybody is a winner today!

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