Questionnaire-based data on alcohol consumption was collected from more than 5,000 military recruits in Switzerland, who had a mean age of just over 19 years.

There were very few drinkers who averaged more than 21 drinks per week, so the emphasis was on the effects of what is usually referred to as “binge drinking”, defined in this study as the consumption of six or more typical drinks (a drink containing 10-12g of alcohol) on a single occasion. The “preference” of one particular type of beverage was based on the subject indicating that it made up more than two-thirds of his total alcohol consumption.

The specific type of beverage preferred - beer, wine, or “other beverages” (the latter including aperitifs’, “pops,” chillers, and coolers) - was related to the pattern of drinking (frequency of binge drinking) and to the reported occurrence of adverse alcohol-related consequences (eg, blackouts, driving after heavy drinking, missing work due to drinking, accidents, unprotected sex, encounters with police).

“Preference for beer was associated with risky drinking patterns and, comparable with a preference for strong alcohol, with the use of illicit substances (cannabis and other illicit drugs)," the authors report. "In contrast, a preference for wine was associated with low-risk alcohol consumption and a reduced likelihood of experiencing at least four negative alcohol-related consequences or of daily cigarette smoking.” More frequent binge drinking of any beverage was strongly associated with an increase in adverse alcohol-related consequences.

Forum reviewers thought that the adverse outcomes, especially those relating to heavy beer intake, tend to characterise a particular subculture that demonstrates problematic substance use due to the personal characteristics of the subjects. The unhealthy outcomes may be a feature more of the cultural habits of the subjects rather than just due to the type of beverage they consume most frequently. 

The authors conclude that strategies for preventing problems with alcohol abuse should attempt to reduce excessive drinking of all types of beverages.

However, they add: “To lessen the additional negative effects of beer and strong alcohol, which are particularly cheap in Switzerland, targeted strategies such as minimum pricing policies for these beverage types should be considered.”

Forum members think that the extent to which such beverage-specific price restructuring would decrease unhealthy drinking practices among young people remains unclear.

To read the full critique, click here.

These critiques are published with the permission of ISFAR.