The science behind COVID vaccines? Sacrosanct. The science behind the new alcohol consumption guidelines? Not so much

Nick KossovanI assume you are aware of the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) having issued revised alcohol consumption guidelines. The new guidelines, released after a two-year research project funded by Health Canada, are shocking, which the media, not surprisingly, has taken full advantage of.

Media coverage of the findings was spun to scare even casual drinkers straight, so it elevates above all the current “news noise” contributing to our constant anxiety. (e.g., runaway inflation, the Russia-Ukraine War, the U.S. hitting its debt ceiling)

It is as if all the mainstream media outlets gathered for a brainstorming session and decided, “Hey, it’s a new year; why not create a new health crisis?” Nothing keeps the collective angst elevated and everyone addicted to the news, like a continuous flow of health crises.


Photo by Kelsey Chance

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CCSA’s 89-page report can be summarized as follows:

“We now know even a small amount of alcohol can be damaging to health. Research shows that no amount or kind of alcohol is good for your health.”

This is a 360-degree change from Canada’s former alcohol consumption guidelines, released in 2011. The 2011 guidelines defined as “low risk” up to 10 drinks per week (no more than two per day) for women and up to 15 drinks per week (no more than three per day) for men.

At this point, there are two things about me you need to know:

  1. I am far from what you would call a teetotaller, especially during my younger days, and
  2. My firsthand experience has taught me that people drink primarily for reasons of social interaction (liquid courage), not because it is nutritious.

I get it; the CCSA has a duty to provide information that they feel is in the public’s best interest when it comes to making informed decisions about one’s health. I also understand that media outlets now find themselves in a new world order requiring they dramatically change their business model. Understandably media outlets will do whatever they feel is necessary to keep us habituated to the news – they need our eyeballs for ad revenue.

The media’s behaviour is not what concerns me. I have come to expect their constant “crisis spins.” What concerns me is what I am hearing and not hearing from those around me and seeing on my social media feeds. Those who uncivilly freaked out when anyone questioned the science behind COVID vaccines are questioning the science used by the CCSA to revise Health Canada’s alcohol consumption guidelines.

This, “I will question, even denounce, any science that does not suit me,” hypocrisy is telling of our society where most of us go along to get along.

For your reference:

  • In 2020/2021, according to Statistics Canada, liquor authorities sold 3,180 million litres of alcoholic beverages to Canadians of legal drinking age, an equivalent of 9.7 drinks per week per Canadian.
  • In the coming months, it will be interesting to see whether Canadians who followed the government’s vaccine guidelines because they believed in the science will now follow Health Canada’s new guidelines to limit their alcohol intake to no more than two drinks per week.
  • Will bars become dispensers of club soda and non-alcoholic fruit cocktails?
  • Will liquor stores be shutting their doors and joining the ‘For Lease’ retail landscape?
  • Will grocery stores be emptying their shelves of alcoholic beverages and stocking the new shelf space with gluten-free offerings?
  • Will the Canadian government see a dramatic decline in alcohol sales, a significant source of government revenue, along with other vices they tax (gambling, cigarettes), forcing them to raise taxes elsewhere to maintain the money flowing into Ottawa’s coffers?
  • … or will Canadians shrug their shoulders and keep raising glasses of beer, wine and hard liquor, saying to themselves, “What does the CCSA know? I bet their studies were commissioned by the Dairy Farmers of Canada.”

Yes, deciphering the science is difficult, especially when filtered through mainstream media which greatly benefits keeping you and me in a constant state of anxiousness. Nevertheless, because of the science the media reported, most Canadians quickly rolled up their sleeves to get vaccinated and then boosted. Only a small percentage of Canadians questioned the vaccine’s science and possible side effects down the road. Those who were, for lack of a better word, brave enough to challenge the science publicly or said they were not comfortable getting vaccinated were pummeled with insults, labelled negatively, had their beliefs and values ridiculed and were ostracized by family and friends and their employer. Civil dialogue never took place.

Why are those publicly saying they will be ignoring Health Canada’s new alcohol consumption guidelines not being publicly burned at the stake?

Unvaccinated Canadians and those who went out in public unmasked experienced outrage, which their attackers justified by claiming that their “rebellious” behaviour (READ: Exercising their right to body autonomy) was burdening hospitals. If the media is to be believed, those who refuse to get vaccinated and/or wear a facemask are bringing Canada’s health-care system to its knees.

Many will argue; if a person decides to drink, that is their business. The logic being drinking is not contagious like COVID. Point taken. However, assuming CCSA’s science is credible, and therefore alcohol is literally poison, I would expect people to be upset about all the drinking Canadians who are using Canada’s taxpayer-funded health-care system to treat illnesses and diseases that could have been prevented if they had abstained from alcohol, according to the science presented by the CCSA.

Where is the outrage against those who continue to smoke in 2023, despite decades of undeniable science that has clearly said smoking kills? It is inevitable that those who smoke end up using Canada’s health-care system more than Canadians who take their health seriously.

The non-existent outrage against those who question CCSA’s science or dismiss it outright is mind-boggling hypocrisy. No wonder there is so much discourse when hypocrisy has become the norm.

Undeniably, most health issues Canadians face and seek treatment for through our health-care system are preventable. There is no doubt that a person’s lifestyle choices have a direct impact on their health. Hence, are not all unhealthy lifestyle choices deserving of outrage, judgment, condemnation, and ostracization? Or is cherry-picking which science to believe – namely, the science that suits us – the new thing?

I am curious to see how much alcohol Canadians will consume in 2023.

Nick Kossovan, a self-described connoisseur of human psychology, writes about what’s on his mind from Toronto.

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