The application quickly got the thumbs down because alcohol is already covered by other regulation. But let’s suspend our scepticism for a moment and imagine if alcohol was rescheduled under the TGA’s guidelines.
You would have to get a prescription from a doctor to get it. The doctor could screen your medical history and risk factors and give you advice on how to use alcohol safely. How civilised.
I imagine there would be quite a few people leaving their consultation empty handed.
Currently, the National Health and Medical Research Council’s guidelines recommend total abstinence for women around the period of pregnancy. Youth are also recommended to abstain prior to the legal drinking age.
Everyone else is advised to use alcohol moderately. That means no more than two drinks per day on average and never more than four drinks.
Given that recent polling has found that over four million Australians drink for the purpose of getting drunk, a lot of people may benefit from having their alcohol prescription cancelled.
Alcohol-use disorders include dependence - where physical adaptation to alcohol has progressed to such an extreme that you can die or experience great trauma if alcohol is withdrawn - and the more common diagnosis of alcohol abuse, where social and economic adjustment is undermined.
Since alcohol has been causally linked to more than 60 different medical conditions, maybe the more fitting question is, who would actually get a prescription?
There is some evidence that moderate alcohol use may hold some therapeutic benefits. Although the extent of any benefit is contested, a number of systematic reviews find that moderate alcohol use is associated with lower risks of cardiovascular disease for older men.
But the sad reality is that the majority of alcohol is not consumed moderately. The net cost to Australian society associated with current patterns of alcohol use is estimated at over $15 billion a year. One report has put it at as much as $36 billion a year.
Systematic reviews commonly identify alcohol to be amongst the top five contributors to preventable health problems.
I am not holding my breath for alcohol to be rescheduled any time soon. But there is a growing push for alcohol-related problems to be more firmly addressed.
Integrated evidence-based approaches include using taxation policy to increase the price of alcohol, changing state laws to increase the regulation of liquor licenses, enhancing enforcement of existing laws, such as drink driving prohibitions and public drunkenness laws, and improving prevention and treatment options.