Drink History Canada

Issues in the history of the consumption, manufacture, and regulation of drink in Canada

Distortions: Am I really going to get tuberculosis from drinking?


Ok, let’s be scholarly: not likely. Read on.

According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA), there is a link between alcohol consumption and tuberculosis (TB) worthy of your attention. In their report released for consultation (in August 2022), TB was at the bottom of the table of potential harms. See for example the table for women:

(Source: Update of Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines: Final Report for Public Consultation, p 19)

Wow, if you are a woman who has 50 grams of alcohol a day (50/13.45=3.72 drinks) you could increase your likelihood of getting TB by nearly 150%!

As I’ve said before, there is a problem with this data. Whereas most of the other conditions mentioned are based upon internal physiological changes in the body (cancer, heart disease, diabetes etc) tuberculosis is a disease caused by bacterial infection. If you’re not near the bacillus, you can’t get TB. It cannot be willed (or drunk) into existence.

Also, look at the deaths per year stat: 0.2: 100,000=2 in a million. So it’s pretty low mortality.

TB is an illness linked to poverty and privation. It is not a funny disease, not something to make light of, but it is treatable. It is also something that is endemic in other countries, and in some remote parts of Canada it can also be around in its latent state (lurking in someone’s body, causing no illness and not infectious).

So why in the heck is it in this table at all? you might ask. Well, among the 16 studies the CCSA used to inform its new guidance, there is one that looks at the global burden of tuberculosis and makes connections with alcohol consumption. In some areas (most especially in some parts of Africa and Latin America) TB is endemic, spreading within the population. Drinking a lot of alcohol can lower the strength of the immune system. So logically, when you are in an area where an infection is of high probability, and you are drinking a lot of alcohol and compromise your immune system, you will be at a higher risk of contracting the disease.

That doesn’t answer your question, though, does it? Why is it here, an a report giving guidance to Canadians? Well, for that you’d have to ask the CCSA. But from my perspective it’s clear: they’re trying to use every means possible to scare people into drinking less or none at all.

Am I just being paranoid and manifesting a conspiracy theory? Maybe, but I don’t think so. Early on in the discussion of the report (the one that was released in August 2022 for public consultation) I heard one of their representatives on the radio talking about the link between illness and drinking. He specifically mentioned TB. As if this is something everyone is worrying about.

It was bizarre. And my conclusion was that he is trying to draw on the sort of panic the temperance movement used to convince people that they are going to get sick from drinking. But TB? Come ON!

Notice, also, how in the final report the CCSA removed the mortality data.

(Source: Canada’s Guidance on Alcohol and Health: Final Report p 25)

They took away perspective on how many people die per year. Oddly, they also put TB at the top. What the hell? It’s not first in an alphabetical listing; not highest in the level of risk. I have no idea what is going on. Maybe in their public consultation, the idea of catching TB resonated.

Good grief.

(c) Dan Malleck 2023


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About Me

An English diarist and naval administrator. I served as administrator of the Royal Navy and Member of Parliament. I had no maritime experience, but I rose to be the Chief Secretary to the Admiralty under both King Charles II and King James II through patronage, diligence, and my talent for administration.


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