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Exaggerating alcohol problems: government agencies inflate alcohol's impact on American society.

Citizens have a right to expect the truth from governmental agencies. However, estimates of the extent of alcohol problems, and of the number of problem drinkers, are systematically inflated by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the federal Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP) and others who have a vested self-interest in misleading the American public.

The welfare, if not the survival, of the alcohol agencies depends largely on promoting the widespread belief that alcohol problems are enormous, that they are growing, and that they are a serious burden on the economy.

While such agencies typically state as fact that alcohol is responsible for half of all traffic deaths in the United States, this statistic has no solid foundation. That figure includes all traffic fatalities in which anyone involved (passengers, for example) has consumed any alcohol at all. The most accurate estimates, however, from the unbiased National Academy of Sciences, are that roughly one-quarter of fatal accidents are caused by intoxication.

Similarly, estimates of the number of auto accident in which alcohol might be involved in any way (passenger, pedestrian, etc.) become transformed into statistics on the number of accidents that are actually caused by drunk drivers. In addition to exaggerating the extent of drinking problems, alcohol agencies also distort the costs of alcohol abuse by basing estimates on questionable assumptions, by confusing correlation with causality, by looking only at costs while ignoring the economic benefits of alcohol, and by not using sound accounting principles. However, the agencies' seriously flawed and inflated estimates are routinely presented to the American public as factual knowledge.

Estimates by independent researchers of the number of people who have experienced any drinking problem within the previous three years as well as those of the number likely ever to experience a problem in the future have been transformed into agency assertions of the actual number of problem drinkers. And this in spite of protests of the researchers to the distortions and misuse of their data.

The motives of the alcohol agencies are clearly apparent. One is an attempt to justify the existence of jobs while the other is to expand bureaucratic budgets and power.

President Clinton was elected on a pledge of change. One of his first changes should be to make certain NIAAA, CSAP and other governmental agencies are responsible to truth and to the best interests of the American people. We should expect nothing less.

David J. Hanson, Professor of Sociology at the State University of New York College at Potsdam, is president of the New York State Sociological Association. He has received alcohol research grants from federal, state and private sources and has authored over 250 scholarly publications.
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Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Article Type:Editorial
Date:May 10, 1993
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