Wine drinkers least likely to suffer adverse alcohol-related consequences

Monday, 26 August, 2013

It is not news that more frequent binge drinking of any alcoholic beverage is strongly associated with an increase in adverse alcohol-related consequences such as blackouts, driving after heavy drinking, missing work due to drinking, accidents, unprotected sex, encounters with police. But new analysis has looked at the types of drinks chosen.

In a recent University of Zurich study, around 5000 Swiss military recruits (mean age 19 years) completed a questionnaire about their drinking habits. Very few of them averaged more than 21 drinks/week, so the emphasis was on the effects of what is usually referred to as ‘binge drinking’, defined in this study as the consumption of 6 or more typical drinks (containing 10-12 g of alcohol) on a single occasion.

A ‘preference’ of one particular type of beverage was based on the recruit indicating that it made up more than two-thirds of their total alcohol consumption. Overall, 31.7% preferred beer, 5.4% preferred wine, and 11.5% had ‘other preferences’ such as aperitifs, alcopops, beer pops, wine pops, chillers and coolers.

A preference for wine was associated with low-risk alcohol consumption and a reduced likelihood of experiencing at least four negative alcohol-related consequences or of daily cigarette smoking. While a preference for beer was associated with risky drinking patterns and, comparable with a preference for strong alcohol, with the use of illicit substances (cannabis and other illicit drugs).

More frequent binge drinking of any beverage was strongly associated with an increase in adverse alcohol-related consequences.

The authors concluded that strategies for preventing problems with alcohol abuse should attempt to reduce excessive drinking of all types of beverages. However, they added: “To lessen the additional negative effects of beer and strong alcohol, which are particularly cheap in Switzerland, targeted strategies such as minimum pricing policies for these beverage types should be considered.”

International Scientific Forum on Alcohol Research members think that the extent to which such beverage-specific price restructuring would decrease unhealthy drinking practices among young people remains unclear. Forum member Erik Skovenborg from the Scandinavian Medical Alcohol Board commented: “Not much to learn from this study with cross-sectional data from a Swiss cohort study. As the authors acknowledge, men with a preference for beer and strong alcohol belong to a particular subculture that demonstrates problematic substance use due to personal characteristics. No causal inferences may be drawn due to lack of longitudinal data.” Skovenborg continued: “I am not sure why the authors suggest an attempt to reduce total alcohol intake in this group of young men, where consumption of more than 21 drinks per week occurred rarely. The essential problem is at-risk binge drinking. To curb the binge drinking pattern of this group of young men with a price increase might work; however, even the illegal status of cannabis and other illicit drugs has not been able to stop such drug use.”

Forum reviewers thought that the adverse outcomes, especially those related to heavy beer intake, tend to characterise a particular subculture that demonstrates problematic substance use due to personal characteristics of the subjects. The unhealthy outcomes may be a feature more of the cultural habits of the subjects rather than just due to the type of beverage they consume most frequently.

The study, ‘Beverage preferences and associated drinking patterns, consequences and other substance use behaviours’ by M Dey, G Gmel, J Studer, P Dermota and M Mohler-Kuo, has been published in the European Journal of Public Health 2013; advance access; doi:10.1093/eurpub/ckt109.

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