Clarifying Health Effects of Moderate Alcohol Consumption

One of the challenging facts about alcohol consumption is that observational studies find moderate drinkers live longer than heavy drinkers — and also live longer than people who abstain completely. 

One possible conclusion was that moderate consumption of alcohol is good for us. Is that true?

Another explanation

Recent research has noted that studies of alcohol use don’t distinguish between lifelong non-drinkers and people who have had to give up alcohol because of health issues. 

Including people who have had liver transplants because of alcohol poisoning, for example, skews the results so that nondrinkers seem less healthy than people who indulge in one drink a day. It doesn’t mean that moderate alcohol use is protecting the individual’s health.

So is alcohol use good for us?

The new analysis suggests that, as the World Health Organization puts it, there is no safe level of alcohol consumption. One drink per day increases risks of a number of diseases, including tuberculosis and various types of cancer, by 0.5%.

Increasing the number of drinks per day increases the risk. “Alcohol is a toxic, psychoactive, and dependence-producing substance and has been classified as a Group 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer decades ago,” says the WHO.

Then is alcohol bad for us?

Questions about the research that has led to the idea that wine is good for the heart, for example, don’t necessarily mean that adults must abstain from all alcohol use. Not all experts agree with this claim.

However, heavy drinking has become much more common in the years since the pandemic began. This is especially true among young women, but Americans overall increased their alcohol consumption by an average of 14% between 2019 and 2020. Alcohol sales have jumped by 54%.

Action to take

If you regularly have more than one drink per day, you might choose to reduce your alcohol consumption for your health. 

 If you are concerned about your alcohol use, or uncertain whether you ought to be concerned, talk with your primary care physician. Your doctor will be able to guide you.

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