Monday, August 30, 2010

Do Drinkers Really Outlive Teetotallers?

This has been a controversy for decades, with most studies saying "yes", at least for moderate drinkers.  Such a relationship is thought to be primarily due to reductions in cardiovascular disease.   However, methodological problems such as confounders and the "sick quitter" effect (not to mention the wrath of the neoprohibitionists) have hampered the ability to draw any firm conclusions until now.

A recent study found that, among 55-65 year olds at least,  moderate drinkers lived the longest, followed by light drinkers, followed by heavy drinkers, followed by abstainers.  You read that right--for some reason, even heavy drinkers outlived teetotallers!  This was true even after controlling for numerous traditional and non-traditional confounders, including smoking, obesity, sociodemographic factors, former problem drinking status, and health problems at baseline.  While controlling for these attenuated the relationship somewhat, it still remained strong, confirming previous studies that also found a U-shaped or J-shaped curve for mortality.  It appears that the ancient Greeks were right after all.

But before you go out and buy a bottle of Jack to celebrate, remember that there are several caveats to these findings.  First of all, the study only looked at 55-65 year olds, so attempting to generalize these findings to younger (or older) age groups can be problematic.  No health benefits from alcohol have ever been conclusively proven for people under 40 (though one study suggests that there might be some), and many (but certainly not all) experts believe that the well-known risks (dependency, injuries, liver damage, etc.) outweigh any theoretical benefits that may occur from drinking before that age, especially for heavy drinking.  People over 65 would likely show significant cardiovascular benefits from light drinking, but this age group can run the risk of falls and other injuries from drinking as well.  Also, there are many folks (of all ages, and we all know them) who really should avoid the bottle like the plague.  The fact that the study included only people over 55 means that it inherently excluded many severe alcoholics and/or drunk drivers who would most likely have died before reaching that age, and thus reduced the number of life years in the population.  Finally, the study failed to distinguish between different patterns of drinking--you should realize that there is a huge difference between having two drinks each night of the week (Continental-style) versus having all 14 drinks on a single night (British-style).  The latter is very dangerous indeed, don't do it!

While this study is not directly relevant to the drinking age issue, we feel that studies like this are important to show that alcohol is not an unmitigated evil like MADD and their ilk claim it to be.  Booze does indeed have a dark side that we all need to be aware of, but there are good things about it as well.

We at Twenty-One Debunked present this for informational purposes only and in no way intend this to be an encouragement for anyone to drink.  We are not a "pro-alcohol" organization, but rather we are pro-liberty and anti-tyranny.  But if you do choose to drink, remember that moderation is the key, and of course never drink and drive.

UPDATE:  Take a look at this review in the British Medical Journal on the apparent inverse relationship between light to moderate drinking and cardiovascular disease.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

More About Guam

As you already know, much to our chagrin Guam was in the news for hastily raising the drinking age to 21 in July 2010.  That makes them the first part of the USA to change the drinking age in over two decades.  They were in the news again recently in August.  The first is that they will actually get tougher on DUI by requiring a mandatory overnight jail stay and will prosecute cases within 48 hours, instead of the former policy of "catch and release" that made it such a joke before.  (This we certainly applaud, by the way.) The second was the fact that the arrest rate for DUI had been skyrocketing since 2007, especially for younger drivers.  Aside from being the major impetus for the latest change in DUI criminal procedure, this fact was also used by some to retrospectively justify the drinking age hike to 21.

But the latter claim does not stand up to closer scrutiny.  In fact, it falls flat on its face.  The stats from the Guam Police Department show the following numbers, in a population of about 175,000 residents:

YearTotal DUI ArrestsUnder 21%  Under 21
2010 (first half)3824110.7%

Clearly arrests have risen for all ages, and doubled for those under 21 in two years, though the share of arrests under 21 has essentially plateaued since 2008, after jumping from 2007 to 2008.  Back in 2005, it was only 6%.  However, arrest rates can be quite deceiving, as the table of fatalities below so clearly shows:

YearTotal FatalitiesAlcohol RelatedUnder 21% Under 21
2010 10200%
Avg. (3.7%)

Here we see a very different picture indeed.  It does not appear that alcohol-related fatalities have been rising for any age group.  Quite the opposite in fact, a whopping 64% decrease overall, and thus the reason for rising arrests is most likely greater enforcement and targeting of younger drivers, as opposed to more drunk driving. You read right that in 2008 and 2010, there have actually been zero traffic fatalites of those under 21.  The 2010 data only include the first half of the year (up to June 30), during which the drinking age was still 18, so one can thus project 20 total deaths and 4 total alcohol-related deaths for the whole year, and either zero or one death under 21, had the status quo remained. 

As for the percentage under 21, since alcohol involvement is not given for the under 21 data, we assumed the worst (that all of them involved booze) and calculated the number of under-21 deaths as a percentage of total alcohol-related deaths.  This gives 7.4%, but if we assume that half of the under-21 deaths involve booze (a reasonable estimate given the all-ages data), we get a mere 3.7%.  Thus, drivers under 21 are overrepresented in arrests, but underrepresented in fatalities.  Put another way, even if all under-21 drinking was to somehow magically disappear, over 96% of the deaths would most likely still occur.

How does this compare with the rest of the nation, where the drinking age has been 21 since 1988?  Well, research shows that in 2008, drivers under 21 accounted for 12% of total fatalities and 13% of alcohol-impaired fatalities.  Clearly worse than Guam by any measure, but remember that 21-24 year olds are the worst of all in terms of overrepresentation in drunk driving deaths, a fact that is true in almost every developed nation in the world regardless of drinking age.  Thus, these data are hardly a ringing endorsement for a 21 drinking age.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

California Passes Social Host Law

Much to the chagrin of 21 Debunked and all those who love liberty and oppose the 21 drinking age, today California joined the majority of states and passed a social host liability law.  This means that if you furnish alcohol to someone under 21 and they happen to get killed or injured, you can be sued, and there appear to be no limits on how much you can be sued for. 

We have already discussed in previous posts why we oppose such laws.  First of all, it is just another attempt to prop up the greatest alcohol policy failure since Prohibition, the 21 drinking age.  Secondly, 18-20 year olds are legal adults in all other ways, and should be responsible for their own actions, drunk or not.  Third, such laws have not been proven to save lives, and would probably just force alcohol even further underground, leaving party hosting to only the bold and reckless. Finally, in a country without meaningful tort reform, it will enrich greedy trial lawyers while causing many families to possibly even lose their homes in lawsuits, as social host awards are typically in the millions of dollars.  We can just see them salivating like Pavlov's dog at the prospect.

We at 21 Debunked feel that suing the host (who is at most only peripherally involved, by definition) because the drunk driver does not have deep enough pockets is really quite low to say the least.  Parasitic even, especially when the dollar amounts are ludicrously high as they usually are.  The worst of all are those stupid drunk drivers who sue the host for their own injuries, a group for whom we have no sympathy.  Thus, we do not support social host laws of any kind.  But we do think that drunk drivers of any age who kill or seriously injure others should be sued for everything they have and, if that is still not enough to cover the damages, be forced to work off their debt in prison the rest of their lives.

Interestingly, social host laws (as well as dram shop laws, which are the same thing only applied to bars/restaurants instead) appear to exist in only two countries, the USA and Canada.  We Americans are well-known for our ethic of hyper-individualism, as opposed to a more communitarian or "brother's keeper" ethic found in most other countries, including many in Europe.  Thus, America is the last place one would expect to find such laws, but for some reason it is almost the only place they are found.  Perhaps the fact that our society is so litigious compared to the rest of the world, and increasingly so, is at least part of the reason.  Or maybe it is for the same asinine reasons that the drinking age is arbitrarily set at 21, a full three years higher than the age of majority.  Whatever the reason, such laws are un-American, obsolete, and incompatible with the values upon which our nation was founded, and should thus be stricken from the books at once.