Strong beers may be a thing of the past, according to a new body of research published in the Lancet Gastroenterology & Hepatology. After studying alcohol’s effect on society, a team of Canadian researchers from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) found that cutting back on ethanol, which is the intoxicating ingredient in alcohol, could potentially lower a person’s total alcohol intake in the long run.

After analyzing the cause-and-effect of alcohol, researchers estimate that a reduction in ethanol would lead to a lower blood alcohol content in drinkers, which would ultimately reduce the prevalence of drunk driving and alcohol-related injuries and death and chronic diseases such as liver cirrhosis and cancer. Diluting ethanol in beers may be the trick to reducing preventable deaths and disability.

"We know from experiments that consumers can't distinguish between beers of different strengths," said the study’s lead author Dr. Jürgen Rehm, director of the Institute for Mental Health Policy Research at CAMH, in a statement. "The idea is that a small reduction in alcohol - such as beer with four percent ethanol content versus six percent - would reduce alcohol intake per drinker even if the same overall amount of beverage is consumed."

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, nearly 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes each year, making it the fourth leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States. Alcohol abuse costs the U.S. nearly 250 billion, making the economic burden higher than obesity ($109 billion) and nearly as high as cigarette smoking ($300 billion). But are the drawbacks of alcohol enough to persuade beverage manufacturers to cut the ethanol content in their products?

The American beverage market alone is a $354 billion industry and alcohol sales make up 60 percent of that revenue. Researchers recognize it’s not likely the beverage industry will agree to dilute its products by changing around the formula without a fight. Consumers may notice the difference in alcohol content by how they feel physically and mentally, which means they may switch to other beverage brands that contain more alcohol. Researchers hope the reduction in alcohol-related injuries and deaths as a result of lower-alcohol content will be enough for the beverage industry to comply.

While the number of deaths and injuries linked to alcohol consumption should be the driving force behind reducing alcohol content, Rehm is confident consumers won’t notice enough to turn to other sources of alcohol to achieve a better buzz. “The proposal presents a unique situation, where public health interests in reducing alcohol consumption is not in conflict with the alcohol industry."

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Source: Rehm J. Lancet Gastroenterology & Hepatology . 2016.