Safe drinking: Bottom line to bottoms up
Experts here disagree over recent study that shows even moderate alcohol consumption has risks
When it comes to alcohol, is complete abstinence the only way to be safe?
As drinking becomes more prevalent across all ages around the world, there have been more discussions about the safety of alcohol consumption.
In Singapore, from 2005 to 2015, per capita alcohol consumption nearly trebled, and it is estimated that at least 4.3 per cent of males and 0.8 per cent of females regularly drink alcohol.
Experts say that alcohol-related illnesses and accidents are also on the rise.
If you take into account all the various psychosocial, nutritional and other health effects of drinking, including self-harm, crime, drink driving-related accidents, infections and total cancers as a population, I agree that the safest option is to not drink at all.Dr Lee Guan-Huei, consultant in the National University Hospital’s division of gastroenterology and hepatology
In a study published this year in medical journal The Lancet, researchers said that globally, alcohol could be blamed for 2.8 million deaths a year and was the seventh-leading risk factor for premature death and disability in 2016.
The study also stated that the old adage of "moderation is key" does not hold when it comes to alcohol and that even moderate drinking has risks.
Dr Lee Guan-Huei, a senior consultant in the National University Hospital's division of gastroenterology and hepatology, agreed with the findings.
He said: "If you take into account all the various psychosocial, nutritional and other health effects of drinking, including self-harm, crime, drink driving-related accidents, infections and total cancers as a population, I agree that the safest option is to not drink at all."
For Dr Lee, the study provides a timely reminder of the dangers given the increasing proportion of alcohol users in Singapore, especially in the younger population.
However, Dr Lee added that at an individual level, the increase in relative risk of say, taking one standard drink daily, is quite small compared to non-drinkers.
However, Dr Reina Lim, consultant, department of gastroenterology and hepatology, Singapore General Hospital disagreed with the study, saying that when it comes to drinking, moderation counts.
Although there are extensive epidemiological studies showing that light-to-moderate alcohol intake is cardioprotective, the consensus has not been reached. In my expert opinion, when it comes to alcohol, the key is moderation.Dr Reina Lim, consultant, department of gastroenterology and hepatology, Singapore General Hospital
She said it is important to avoid alcohol altogether if you have already developed any alcohol-related disease, otherwise, there might not be a need to avoid it completely, though be wary of the idea of a medicinal tipple.
Said Dr Lim: "If you currently don't drink, don't start drinking for the possible health benefits. And if you are already drinking alcohol regularly, keep it within the safe limits.
"Although there are extensive epidemiological studies showing that light-to-moderate alcohol intake is cardioprotective (beneficial for the heart), the consensus has not been reached. In my expert opinion, when it comes to alcohol, the key is moderation."
It is not just the health effects of drinking that causes concern.
Mr S.B. Viknesan, senior counsellor, National Addictions Management Service, said that some of the more common consequences of alcoholism may include violence (including domestic violence), increased risk of mental health problems such as depression; and developmental challenges (if the drinker is a young person).
With a number of associated risks, the question that remains is - how can one drink safely?
In discussing alcohol and its dangers, many possible solutions have been put forward, including the raising of the legal drinking age, warning labels and school-run programmes to educate children on responsible drinking.
While some, including psychologist Lawrence Tan say that a raised minimum age could potentially be beneficial, many feel that move, or warning labels, would merely be a token action, pointing out that the same rules passed for cigarettes have failed to stop people from smoking.
The experts say that education and increased awareness on safe drinking should be a priority and is the more effective solution.
Dr Lee told TNP: "I believe public awareness of the overall health risk of alcohol is important, but individuals would have to make their own (hopefully educated and rational) decision about not drinking versus drinking in minimal to moderate quantities."