Casual Drinking and Cancer: A National Threat

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When we ask doctors to 'define alcoholic,' we should prepare ourselves for the stereotypical depiction of an alcoholic that is either a 'happy' or an 'angry' drunk. We classify them as a person for whom alcohol elicits - and exaggerates - that person's most pronounced psychological traits, where they are either an example of bonhomie or belligerence, ready to hug and dance with anyone in sight, or clench his fists and fight the first person he sees.


In reality, that person is, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, more likely to develop one or more types of cancer associated with drinking -- including cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, breast, and colon.

The best way to reduce this risk, save sobriety, is through education. Indeed, we cannot lessen the effects of casual drinking, never mind alcoholism, unless we commit the resources necessary to inform individuals of this threat. Nor can we have a healthy and productive workforce when alcohol prevents employees from doing - and feeling - their best.

Corporate wellness is, as I am wont to say, inseparable from personal well-being. There is a copacetic relationship between the two, where the former flourishes whenever the latter has the means to thrive. Hence the importance of a safe and supportive workplace: an environment that invests in the longevity of its employees, not just because it is in companies' financial interest to do so, but because it is the right thing to do. It is the only thing to do unless businesses want to bankrupt themselves of their intellectual capital and thus ensure they bankrupt themselves of all capital.

So, yes, education about the link between casual drinking and cancer must be a priority. It must be more than the stuff of a single seminar, or some pamphlet or flier. It must reflect the seriousness of this issue, demonstrating to employees that employers respect the gravity of this problem and the grievous consequences that will ensue if they do not stop this threat.

Processes must be in place to help workers, so these men and women may get the help they need. This translates into programs and groups that seek to enable recovery, in contrast to acting as enablers for casual drinkers or alcoholics. This also means employees need not fear criticism from their colleagues or isolation from their employers. On the contrary, everyone must know - and every worker should have no reason to doubt - that corporate wellness is a collective effort.

We are, in other words, all in this together. We all have a stake in overcoming this challenge, so we may challenge ourselves to live healthier and more active lives. We commit, medically, to do so; we have moral cause to be people of good conscience -- and create a solution to this matter.

Together, we can defeat this scourge and enhance wellness nationwide. This is our summons to greatness.

About the Author

Michael Shaw is an MIT-trained biochemist and former protege of the late Willard Libby, the 1960 winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Based in the Greater Washington (DC) Area, Michael is a frequent writer and speaker about a variety of public health issues.