Although we have some evidence that very moderate alcohol consumption can even be beneficial to health, what we can be sure of is that excessive consumption causes serious problems. Now, Australian researchers have found a strategy that can help those who want to reduce consumption.
It is actually a combination of strategies: one based on why to stop drinking and another based on how to do it. Specifically, they combined the use of an information campaign explaining the link between alcohol consumption and cancer; with drink counting, that is, the tactic of keeping track of the drinks consumed in order to achieve a more conscious consumption.
Why cut down on alcohol consumption?
Excessive alcohol consumption has been linked to a multitude of health problems, some of them serious, from digestive problems to heart disease, but it has also been linked to an increased risk of cancer.
Although the main victim of alcohol consumption is the liver, we know today that an excess of this substance can affect our DNA. DNA alterations could be (at least in part) behind the link between alcohol consumption and increased risk of cancer.
Giving up alcohol or reducing its consumption is not an easy task. There are numerous strategies of greater or lesser utility depending on the circumstances of the person who wishes to implement them. Some of them fall into the category of so-called protective behavioral strategies (PBS).
A recent study published in the journal Addictive Behaviorshas analyzed the effectiveness of some of these strategies, put into practice alone and in conjunction with an information campaign dedicated to warning about the influence of alcohol on the development of cancer.
The researchers conducted several successive questionnaires to a group of participants, all of them Australians and, according to the authors of the study, representatives of the Australian drinking population, the country where the study was conducted.
The participants were divided into eight groups, each of which, except for the control group, was assigned a strategy for reducing alcohol consumption. The first strategy consisted of informative audiovisual material in which the carcinogenic effect of alcohol was discussed. All three strategies were based on behavioral strategies such as setting a drink limit in advance or keeping track of drinks consumed. The last three groups combined behavioral strategies with the audiovisual material.
2,687 participants (of the initial almost 8,000) completed the last of the three study questionnaires. The researchers found that the combination of counting drinks and advertisements about the carcinogenic effect of alcohol was the only one that led to a significant reduction in alcohol consumption.
The advertisements themselves and other strategies such as predetermining a number of drinks to be consumed also seemed to help to a certain extent, although the results did not allow us to confirm a significant effect of these strategies.
It is not enough to ask people to stop drinking.
Alcohol is so ingrained in western societies, telling people not to drink is of no use. The strategy proposed by the Australian team is based on informing and equipping people with the tools to carry out the reduction in alcohol consumption they want.
In the words of Simone Pettigrew, who heads the publication announcing the study, “This is important information that drinkers should have access to. But telling people that alcohol causes cancer is only part of the solution, we also need to give them ways to act to reduce their risk.”
More alcohol than Australia, less mortality.
Spain is the ninth country in the world with the highest consumption of alcohol (the Seychelles and Uganda lead this ranking in which the rest of the countries that close the group of the 10 countries that drink the most are European: Czechia, Lithuania, Luxembourg and Germany among others An average of 12.72 liters of pure alcohol per year is consumed per inhabitant, slightly more than double the global average and the equivalent of more than two bottles of wine per week.
For now we do not know if this strategy that has proven its effectiveness in Australian participants could also turn out to be the best strategy in Spain. Consumption habits largely depend on the cultural peculiarities of each country or region, so an answer could only be guaranteed by carrying out the experiment in our environment. Australia consumes two fewer liters of alcohol per inhabitant per year (10.51 litres).
Spain and Australia do come close in one piece of information: the percentage of annual deaths attributable to alcohol, which in the case of Spain is 4.3%, while in Australia it is somewhat higher, 4.6%.
Image | Kelsey Chance