The News Story: We need to stop romanticizing alcohol

Relentless attention has been paid in recent months to opioid abuse in Canada, writes André Picard in the Globe and Mail. But most commentators are ignoring an even greater killer—alcohol. 

Drinking, says Picard, is “often portrayed as good, harmless fun,” but it kills more than 5,000 people in Canada every year, and was responsible for 77,000 hospitalizations in 2016 alone—more than those due to heart attack. The solution? Picard believes that prohibition “doesn’t work.” Instead, regulation and education are the way to go. “We need to talk frankly about the risks and benefits of drugs,” he writes, “and encourage responsible use of alcohol, cannabis or whatever other drug people, young and old, choose to dabble in.” 

What Picard and most others writing on alcohol and substance abuse fail to mention is the protective role that marriage and other outdated institutions play in keeping young and old alike sober. 

(Sources: André Picard, “We Need to Stop Romanticizing Alcohol,” The Globe and Mail, June 27, 2017.)


The New Research: Marital status and alcohol abuse in Canada

As elite educators and entertainers continue to extoll the glories of the single life, marriage rates in many countries tumble to all-time lows. Unfortunately, the growing number of singles are much more likely than their married peers to hit the bottle. Indeed, alcohol abuse among singles emerges as a serious issue in a study recently published by a team of public-health scholars affiliated with the University of Saskatchewan.

This team of researchers explain why they chose to study alcohol abuse in Canada in terms that can only be characterized as sobering. The authors of the study emphasize that “the misuse of alcohol . . . is associated with a number of negative health, social, and economic consequences.” These adverse consequences include the “direct health implications” of “dependency, liver cirrhosis, organ damage, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and various types of cancer.” Besides creating these problems with physical health, alcohol abuse leads to “impaired judgement, impaired driving, injury, suicide, and risky sexual behaviour,” triggering a cascade of “broader health and social repercussions.” To underscore the magnitude of alcohol-related problems in Canada, the researchers cite a 2006 study concluding that the national total for “alcohol-related costs” for 2002 came in at a staggering $14.6 billion (Canadian dollars).

Though deeply concerned about the overall effects of alcohol abuse, the authors of the new study focus on “risky single occasion drinking (RSOD),” citing evidence that “as the frequency of RSOD increases, the likelihood of negative health and social consequences increases.” For the purposes of their inquiry, the researchers defined Risky Single Occasion Drinking (RSOD) as drinking five or more drinks on one occasion.

To determine which Canadians are most likely to engage in such risky drinking, the Saskatchewan scholars parse data collected in 2009-2010 from 68,440 adult Canadians as part of the Canadian Community Health Survey. The data revealed a number of rather predictable characteristics of those most likely to engage in risky drinking—males, smokers, adolescents, and highly stressed individuals were more prone to such drinking than were females, non-smokers, senior citizens, and unstressed individuals. 

But given the changes in family life that have transformed social life in Canada and other affluent nations in recent decades, nothing in this new study deserves more attention than the finding that “marriage is associated with a protective effect on the risk of RSOD.” More specifically, the researchers calculate that “the odds of RSOD [are] 1.77 times more in the single/never married category than in the married category.” This almost two-fold elevation of the likelihood of risky drinking shows up likewise in the widowed, divorced, and separated category (Odds Ratio of 1.75). Given the decided emotional and social differences between losing a spouse to death and losing a spouse to divorce, it is unfortunate that the researchers did not segregate their data more fully.

Fortunately, the researchers did separate the data for legally wed couples from that for cohabiting or common-law couples. And the data indicate that “persons living in common-law were more likely to engage in . . . RSOD . . . than married individuals (Odds Ratio 1.51).” The authors consider this finding “interesting.” After all, they note, “common-law couples have enjoyed similar tax benefits and legal status in Canada as married couples due to high profile court cases.” Speculating on why progressive judicial decisions have not erased the marked differences in drinking behavior separating married couples from common-law couples, the researchers point to research finding that common-law couples are “more likely to separate than married couples, are more likely to experience relationship strain, and enjoy fewer economic benefits.” The authors of the new study plausibly suggest that “the higher levels of instability in common-law relationships and households may contribute to the increased odds of RSOD.”

Above and beyond what this new study teaches us about the risky drinking of common-law couples, perhaps the real take-away is what it teaches about the folly of progressive judges who think they can realign the meaning of wedlock by ideological fiat. What is clear is that so long as the retreat from wedlock—real wedlock—continues in Canada and elsewhere, a dwindling number of men and women will enjoy the “protective effect” of marriage. 

For public-health officials at least, “Happy Hour” at the local bar is likely to bring ever more unhappiness in the years ahead.

(Source: Bryce Christensen and Nicole M. King, forthcoming in The Natural Family. Study: Ellen Rafferty et al., “Factors Influencing Risky Single Occasion Drinking in Canada and Policy Implications,” Archives of Public Health 75 [2017]: 22, Web.)

Nicole M. King is the Managing Editor of The Family in America. Republished from The Family in America, a MercatorNet partner site, with permission.

Nicole M. King is the Managing Editor of The Howard Center’s quarterly journal, The Family in America: A Journal of Public Policy, the United States’ leading journal of family-policy research....