Posts Tagged ‘dangers of alcohol’

Pain pills aren't the only problem: part three

Saturday, December 29th, 2012

I've seen a number of articles in The Wall Street Journal recently discussing the use and misuse of legal pain pills. I had planned to finish this series of blog posts today, but something changed my mind.

Which drugs when misused merit criminal punishment?

There was a July 2006 British House of Commons report authored by the UK Science and Technology Select Committee titled Drug Classification: making a hash of it. In brief it suggested the UK's system of classifying recreational drugs should be revised toward a more scientific measure of harm. Such a system was published in The Lancet in 2007 with the article's title being "Development of a rational scale to assess the harm of drugs of potential misuse."

The article was gripping, with the UK cost of drug misuse, in three spheres--healthcare, societal and resultant crime--being estimated at 10-16 billion British pounds a year. Looking at the exchange rates for 2007, one can approximately double that number, so we're looking at $20-32 billion/year in the UK alone.

Two expert panels were assembled (one composed of psychiatrists who specialized in addiction) and their results were compared in three areas; physical harm, dependence and social harms. The drugs they were compiling data on were not quite what I expected. In addition to  familiar illicit drugs (e.g., heroin, LSD, ecstasy and cocaine), they included khat, a stimulant-containing leaf that is chewed by ~10 million people worldwide (mostly in East Africa and the southwestern portions of the Arabian Peninsula). They also rated methadone and buprenorphine, drugs that are used in combatting withdrawal symptoms in patients being treated for addiction to narcotics.

I thought the most interesting portion of the study was the inclusion of alcohol, tobacco and  benzodiazepines (e.g., Klonopin, Valium, Xanax and Ativan) and the comparison of the three-sphere costs of these drugs with those of illegal substances.

Benzodiazepines are prescribed for anxiety and insomnia; they are widely used and relatively safe, but certainly can be addicting. Alcohol and tobacco, of course, are available without any doctors prescription.

In recent years we've been repeatedly told of the positive effects of red wine, especially as decreasing the risk of coronary heart disease . A health writer for the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital, published a 2008 review of the subject. The bottom line was 1). there were no randomized controlled studies on the subject; 2). exercise and a well-balanced diet can offer similar health benefits and 3). it's not possible, at this time to accurately predict who will develop alcohol dependence. The final paragraph of the paper said: "If you don't drink, don't start. If you drink excessively, stop. And if you drink moderately, you may continue to raise your glass and proclaim...'to my health!'"

highly addictive and dangerous

The study in The Lancet concluded that the current UK Misuse of Drugs Act (1971 version amended) was insufficient. That Act classifies drugs into three categories from A as the most harmful to C the least. But tobacco and alcohol account for about 90% of drug-related deaths in the UK and aren't on the list. Long-term smoking (over the age of 30) reduces life span by ten years on average. Smoked tobacco is the most addictive commonly used drug was the group's conclusion, with heroin and alcohol somewhat less so. Tobacco is estimated to cause up to 40% of all hospital illness and 60% of drug-related fatalities. Alcohol intoxication often rsults in violent behavior (I see this in our local paper on a regular basis) and is a common cause of auto and other accidents.

So where should we start in fighting drug abuse?






Eating and drinking in Europe: part two

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

I may switch to red wine

I've been reflecting about our wine drinking in Europe. Here I normally have one glass of sweet white wine (e.g., Riesling Spatlese) three times a week.  It's very rare that I'll have a second glass and when that occurs it's almost always at home. When we're at an evening event we routinely have a "designated drinker" and a designated driver. That's been our pattern for more than twenty years, ever since I saw an Army senior physician, about to move into a choice command position, make the irrevocable error of over-consumption of liquor at a party.

I've noticed a few months ago that other countries have considerably lower blood alcohol limits for drivers than ours in the United States: that altered my own behavior. Rarely in the past, if we were going to spend three or four hours at a party, I might have one drink at the start of the festivities and drive home some hours later. That no longer makes sense.

However, in Portugal, we almost always walked to restaurants and we almost always drank red wine: vino verde (I discovered this meant "young wine", not "green wine), Port or regional products. We were sitting next to a German couple at one delightful meal and started talking about our imbibing habits. They had a white wine bottle on their table while we were trying a local red . They said at home they usually have wine with dinner and drink a bottle every three days. On vacation, they were drinking a bottle a night.

We brought a half bottle back to the hotel and finished it the following evening sitting on the third-story terrace.

Normally, if I do have a second glass of wine I feel a slight buzz. That wasn't happening on this trip. When I thought about it I realized we weren't drinking standing up at a reception, but sitting down at a prolonged meal. Our typical dinner in the States lasts an hour; here we averaged two and a half hours. So both the length of time and our food intake played a part in moderating the effect of the alcohol we were consuming.

We're home now and back to our normal pattern. We ate at our favorite local restaurant yesterday and I had a Thai Ice tea and no wine.

I'm not suggesting any of you should start drinking wine if you don't now, and for those of you who do drink wine now I'm certainly not pushing for increased amounts (having seen far too many cases of cirrhosis). The medical data for a favorable effect of moderate red wine consumption is suggestive, but not definitive as I mentioned in my comments extracted from a Mayo Clinic website. At age seventy, with no history of overconsumption in my family, I'm choosing to err on the side of  the vino. I may even switch from white to red wine.