Drinking Trends: An Expert Take

If drinking is the new smoking, should employers offer it at celebratory events?

Answer from Dr. Diane A. Rothon, BSc MD CM MPH MSC CMF MCFP(AM), Medical Director, ALAViDA

For a long time we believed alcohol had health benefits. But a compelling body of evidence tells us otherwise and a similar cultural awakening around drinking that happened with cigarettes 20 years ago is taking place. In a 2018 study the British Medical Journal decreed, “the safest level of drinking is none.” Since Canadians drink 50 per cent more than the world average, we’re a long way from “none.”

Before you pour that first drink, it’s important employers and employees know the risks:

  • There’s strong evidence alcohol causes cancers of the throat, larynx esophagus, liver, colon and rectum.
  • For women who consume at least two drinks a day, the risk of breast cancer is up to 50 per cent higher than for non-drinkers. The risk increases with age and with binge drinking.
  • Alcohol is a causal factor in over 60 other health conditions like diabetes and heart disease. It worsens depression and anxiety.
  • Alcohol disrupts sleep, causes inflammation, bloat and weight gain.

So wouldn’t it be better to simply not offer alcohol at events? The short answer is yes. But we know an outright ban can be counterproductive to sustained behaviour change. At ALAViDA we help our patients reduce or quit and we know people make permanent changes when they are supported to do so.

What I’d recommend is that companies shift how they provide alcohol. Offer one alcoholic drink per employee and a variety of mocktails – non-alcoholic beverages can be fun too. Then provide confidential pre-disability tools via their benefits, to help educate and support employees. The workplace has already done a great job in leading the change in attitude towards mental health. It can also lead the way in decreasing substance use.

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