America's Alcohol Czar Wants Stricter Federal Guidelines for Drinking

George Koob says the U.S. could follow Canada's lead and recommend no more than two alcoholic drinks per week.


The federal government might soon take an interest in how many cold ones you've been cracking open.

George Koob, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, tells the Daily Mail that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) might soon revise its dietary guidelines to recommend that adults consume no more than two alcoholic drinks per week. Canada's health authorities recently shifted to that guideline, and Koob says that the U.S. could follow suit.

"I mean, they're not going to go up, I'm pretty sure," Koob said of the ongoing reevaluation of federal alcohol guidelines, a process that likely won't be completed until 2025, according to the Daily Mail. "So, if [alcohol consumption guidelines] go in any direction, it would be toward Canada."

Currently, the federal dietary guidelines advise no more than two drinks per day for adult men and one drink per day for adult women. Revising that down to two drinks per week would be a dramatic shift, to say the least.

Thankfully, most Americans don't give a shit what the federal guidelines for drinking say. Following federal dietary guidelines to the letter of the law would mean a joyless existence devoid of many fine drinks (particularly if you're a woman), anything less than well-done steak, or eggs benedict. Oh, and don't forget to microwave your prosciutto!

It's also true, of course, that the government is in no way forcing Americans to follow these rules. This doesn't even rise to the level of a backhanded ban like the ones that are aimed at driving gas stoves into extinction. Still, these guidelines come with an air of authority to them—or, at least, the sense that they were made by people who know what they're talking about.

But, often, they don't. Remember the food pyramid? My entire generation was raised on the notion that we were supposed to eat six to 11 servings of starch per day, thanks to poorly researched government-based dietary guidelines

If the U.S. follows Canada in issuing dramatically lower guidelines for alcohol consumption, the USDA will likely justify the decision by pointing to a headline-generating 2018 article published in the British medical journal The Lancet that argued the safe level of alcohol consumption was basically zero. Indeed, in his remarks to the Daily Mail, Koob echoed that study by claiming there are "no benefits" to drinking alcohol in terms of physical health. The World Health Organization has been pushing a similar message in recent years.

Of course, that ignores many of the possible benefits that human beings derive from drinking—like social lubrication, relaxation, and fun.

"[Alcohol] helps us to be more creative. It helps us to be more communal. It helps us to cooperate on a large scale," Edward Slingerland, author of Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way to Civilization told ReasonTV last year. "It helps to make it easier for us to kind of rub shoulders with each other in these large-scale societies that we live in. So it solved a bunch of adaptive problems that we uniquely face as a species because of this weird lifestyle we have."

As with so many other public health policies—many of which were on obvious display during the COVID-19 pandemic—alcohol guidelines focused exclusively on physical well-being at the expense of everything else that makes a life worth living will naturally be overly cautious and unrealistic.

Setting strict rules about alcohol consumption also requires ignoring other evidence that, actually, drinking might be good for you, as long as it's done in moderation.

A study published in June by the medical journal BMC Medicine comparing drinkers and nondrinkers found that "infrequent, light, or moderate drinkers were at a lower risk of mortality from all causes, CVD, chronic lower respiratory tract diseases, Alzheimer's disease, and influenza and pneumonia" when compared to lifelong teetotalers. Of course, heavy drinkers had a higher risk of dying "from all causes, cancer, and accidents."

Having more information about the ways alcohol affects our health—positive and negative—is essential for adults who want to make informed decisions about what they ingest. But there's no need for formal guidelines promulgated by government agencies, and that's especially true when the people writing those rules are only looking at part of the picture.