24 January 2020 In Drinking Patterns

BACKGROUND: Alcohol consumption, even at low-levels, can not be guaranteed as safe or risk free. Specifically, the 2009 Australian National Health and Medical Research Council drinking guidelines recommend that adults should not drink more than two standard drinks on any day on average, and no more than four drinks on a single occasion. Nearly 40% of Australians aged 12 years and older drink alcohol but don't exceed these recommended limits, yet adult low-risk drinkers have been largely overlooked in Australian alcohol survey research, where they are usually grouped with abstainers. This paper examines the socio-demographic profile of low-risk drinking adults (18+ years old), compared to those who abstain.

METHODS: Data from the 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey were used. In the past 12 months, 4796 Australians had not consumed alcohol and 8734 had consumed alcohol at low-risk levels, accounting for both average volume and episodic drinking (hereafter low-risk).

RESULTS: Multivariate logistic regression results indicated that low-risk drinkers were more likely to be older, married, Australian-born, and reside in a less disadvantaged neighbourhood compared with abstainers. There was no significant difference by sex between low-risk drinkers and abstainers.

CONCLUSIONS: The socio-demographic profile of low-risk drinkers differed from that of abstainers. Combining low-risk drinkers and abstainers into a single group, which is often the practice in survey research, may mask important differences. The study may support improved targeting of health promotion initiatives that encourage low-risk drinkers not to increase consumption or, in view of increasing evidence that low-risk drinking is not risk free, to move towards abstinence.

24 January 2020 In Drinking Patterns

The existence and potential level of cardioprotection from alcohol use is contested in alcohol studies. Assumptions regarding the risk relationship between alcohol use and ischaemic heart disease (IHD) are critical when providing advice for national drinking guidelines and for designing alcohol harm monitoring systems.

We use three meta-analyses regarding alcohol use and IHD risk to investigate how varying assumptions lead to differential estimates of alcohol-attributable (AA) deaths and weighted relative risk (RR) functions, in Australia and Canada. Alcohol exposure and mortality data were acquired from administrative sources and AA fractions were calculated using the International Model of Alcohol Harms and Policies.

We then customized a recent Global Burden of Disease (GBD) analysis to inform drinking guidelines internationally. Australians drink slightly more than Canadians, per person, but are also more likely to identify as lifetime abstainers.

Cardioprotective scenarios resulted in substantial differences in estimates of net AA deaths in Australia (between 2933 and 4570) and Canada (between 5179 and 8024), using GBD risk functions for all other alcohol-related conditions.

Country-specific weighted RR functions were analyzed to provide advice toward drinking guidelines: Minimum risk was achieved at or below alcohol use levels of 10 g/day ethanol, depending on scenario. Consumption levels resulting in 'no added' risk from drinking were found to be between 10 and 15 g/day, by country, gender, and scenario.

These recommendations are lower than current guidelines in Australia, Canada, and some other high-income countries: These guidelines may be in need of downward revision.

24 January 2020 In Drinking Patterns

This review provides the first systematic and quantitative synthesis of the literature examining the relationship between binge drinking, cognition, brain structure and function in youth aged 10 to 24 years. PubMed, EMBASE, Medline, PsychINFO and ProQuest were searched for neuroimaging, neurophysiological, and neuropsychological studies.

A total of 58 studies (21 neuroimaging, 16 neurophysiological, 21 neuropsychological) met the eligibility criteria and were included in the review. Overall, abnormal or delayed development of key frontal executive-control regions may predispose youth to binge drink.

These abnormalities appear to be further exacerbated by the uptake of binge drinking, in addition to alcohol-related neural aberrations in reward-seeking and incentive salience regions, indexed by cognitive deficits and maladaptive alcohol associations.

A meta-analysis of neuropsychological correlates identified that binge drinking in youth was associated with a small overall neurocognitive deficit (g = -0.26) and specific deficits in decision-making (g = -1.70), and inhibition (g = -0.39). Using the Grades of Recommendation, Assessment, Development, and Evaluation (GRADE) Evidence Profile, the certainty in outcomes ranged from very low to low.

Future prospective longitudinal studies should address concomitant factors, exposure thresholds, and age-related vulnerabilities of binge drinking, as well as the degree of recovery following discontinuation of use.

26 November 2019 In Drinking Patterns

Most epidemiological research on alcohol as a risk factor is based on the assumption that outcomes are linked to pattern and level of alcohol exposure, where different beverages are converted into grams of ethanol. This review examines this basic assumption, that alcohol has the same impact, independent of beverage type.

We conducted a systematic search on comparative research of beverage-specific alcohol exposure and consequences. Research was divided by methodology (survey, case-control, cohort, time-series analyses, interventional research). Overall, many studies showed higher risks for spirits compared to beer or wine; however, most research was not controlled adequately for confounders such as patterns of drinking. While there is no conclusive evidence for spirits being associated with more harm, given the same pattern and level of alcohol exposure, some evidence supports for certain outcomes such as injuries and poisonings, a potential excess risk with spirits consumption due to rapid ethanol intake and intoxication.

Accordingly, encouraging people to opt for beverages with lower alcohol content via taxation strategies has the potential to reduce alcohol-attributable harm. This does not necessarily involve switching beverage type, but also can achieved within the same beverage category, by shifting from higher to lower concentration beverages.

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