Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A license to kill ... himself

(My latest Addiction and Recovery column.)
By Bob Gaydos
If James Bond were a real person, he'd be dead.
92 martinis a week, shaken
or stirred, would
 hamper even 007's style,
if he were a real person.
The famed, fictional British double agent, renowned for his ability to handle his fists and his booze, would have either drunk himself to death or been too drunk to find, never mind fire, his gun when some enemy agent intended him bodily harm.
That’s the conclusion of a study published last month in the British Medical Journal. Indeed, the scientists who studied 007’s drinking habits in all 14 of Ian Fleming’s Bond novels say the spy who could do no wrong would be dead at 56 if he were a real person and consumed what they calculated to be an average of 92 martinis per week. Shaken not stirred.
The scientists even offered an opinion on that stylistic choice as well, figuring it was driven by alcohol-induced tremors, which made his hands shake and, of course, would have made it impossible for him to aim his gun, never mind hit his target.
While the study may have been a semi-tongue-in-cheek look at a fictional character’s drinking habits, given the popularity of the Bond films and the profound impact of popular culture on our life styles, it makes a serious point. To wit: There is a limit to how much alcohol anyone can drink, in a day, over a week, or a lifetime, without putting himself or herself at serious risk. And that limit is nowhere near what what the suave Bond character consumes.
According to the Rethinking Drinking website of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, for a healthy male adult, drinking more than four drinks per day or 14 in a week (remember, Bond averaged 92 a week) is considered “at risk” or “heavy drinking.” For women, the numbers are three per day and seven per week.

The site says that one in four people who exceed these limits already has alcoholism or alcohol abuse and the rest are at greater risk for developing them. And the more often someone repeats the pattern, that is, the more heavy-drinking days there are, the more at-risk that person is for alcoholism, alcohol abuse and the many health problems related to alcohol abuse.

The NIAAA, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, says 3 in 10 U.S. adults already drink more than the low-risk limits and 25 percent of them already have alcoholism or alcohol abuse. It also says many of these people may be unaware that their drinking habits are putting them at risk for alcohol-related problems.

This obliviousness is often fed by popular culture. Movies (not just Bond movies) are notorious for depicting alcohol consumption, sometimes in copious amounts, with the characters suffering little to no serious effects. A previous study published in the BMJ pointed to one of the risks inherent in this lackadaisical cultural approach to heavy drinking. It found that young teens who watch a lot of movies depicting drinking are twice as likely to start drinking as their peers and are more likely to progress to binge drinking. This was true for thousands of teens studied in Europe as well as the United States, according to the report.
James Sargent, PhD, of the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth and a co-author of the report, says, “Exposure to movie depictions of alcohol predicts alcohol onset and progression to binge drinking during adolescence.” Sargent says his findings point to the need for more attention to alcohol use in film ratings and for restrictions on the placement of alcohol products in movies.  
That sounds reasonable, especially given that drinking habits are often established at an early age. But movies, TV and other popular forms of entertainment generally reflect what the the public demands. Smoking by characters in movies and on TV only declined when the real people who go to see the movies recognized the health risks and changed their smoking habits. In many ways, society remains uninformed about or seemingly uninterested in learning the many risks of alcohol abuse. This mass denial doesn’t mean it’s not a real problem.  
Drinking is a fact of life. The risk here is in confusing fiction with fact. James Bond is a terrific fictional character. Suave, smart, strong, sexy. But any real man who drank the way he does would likely be a stumbling, bumbling, mumbling, out-of-work loser with a lot of health issues and no lovely ladies on his arm.

Or he’d be dead.

* * *

NIAAA: http://rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/default.asp
James Sargent: http://geiselmed.dartmouth.edu/news/2012/02/23_sargent.shtml