No Amount of Alcohol Consumption Is Good For You

A recent study seems to dispel the age-old belief that just a little bit of alcohol has heart health benefits.

Patient with an alcohol problem

Alcohol consumption is associated with various short-term and long-term health risks, varying in harm from effects such as unwanted weight gain to premature death. Alcohol has been implicated in motor vehicle accidents, violence, sexual risk behaviors, high blood pressure, various cancers, and shortened lifespan. Yet, for decades there has been a popular belief that alcohol consumption in moderation may have some health benefits.

Sometimes, this belief has been used to justify alcohol consumption. “Have a drink; it’s good for your heart,” and so on. With that in mind, people who have long thought that small amounts of alcohol may be healthy should learn that this is almost certainly not true. Recent research shows that not only is alcohol not healthy, but even small amounts of alcohol consumption pose a significant health risk.

Recent Findings Suggest there are No Health Benefits from Alcohol Consumption

A study published in JAMA Network Open found that previous research suggesting alcohol consumption may have health-related benefits is probably not accurate.1 Rather, alcohol intake at all levels is linked with higher risks of cardiovascular disease, not lower risk. The researchers found that the supposed benefits of alcohol consumption are almost certainly attributable to other lifestyle factors (such as an active lifestyle) that tend to be more common among moderate drinkers than people who do not drink at all.

The study, conducted by multiple teams of researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, included an impressive 371,463 adults as study participants. The research made a significant discovery. While people who drank small amounts of alcohol tended to have better heart health than people who did not drink at all, people who drank small amounts of alcohol also tended to have healthier lifestyles. They exercised more, ate more vegetables, and they smoked less tobacco.

Previous studies that did see the connection between moderate drinkers with better heart health than alcohol abstainers did not see this key point: abstainers generally do not observe healthy living practices to the same degree as people who drink alcohol in moderation.

And it is truly a key point. Due to the new technology, the researchers could use, it was more than clear that lifestyle played a more influential role in heart health for moderate drinkers than actual alcohol consumption. A press release that touched on how the researchers were able to arrive at this conclusion states, “The study also applied the latest techniques in a method called Mendelian randomization, which uses genetic variants to determine whether an observed link between an exposure and an outcome is consistent with a causal effect – in this case, whether light alcohol consumption causes a person to be protected against cardiovascular disease.”2 Thanks to this new technology, the researchers were able to determine that alcohol consumption was not the causal factor in slightly better heart health among moderate drinkers than people who do not drink alcohol.

“The findings affirm that alcohol intake should not be recommended to improve cardiovascular health; rather, that reducing alcohol intake will likely reduce cardiovascular risk in all individuals, albeit to different extents based on one’s current level of consumption.”

While the alleged “health benefits” of alcohol have been under scrutiny for years, this study is the first that officially codifies how and why some people who drink in moderation may have healthier hearts than others who do not drink. Lead study author Dr. Krishna G. Aragam states, “The findings affirm that alcohol intake should not be recommended to improve cardiovascular health; rather, that reducing alcohol intake will likely reduce cardiovascular risk in all individuals, albeit to different extents based on one’s current level of consumption.”2 Now that the findings are out there, the data should be made known so the American people can dispel the myth that alcohol is good for one’s heart health.

The Healthiest Thing You Can Do is Not Drink

Public health institutions like the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans frequently put out information on the health harms of alcohol. Every year the warnings become more clear. An absolute minimum of alcohol consumption is ideal, with no alcohol consumption being the healthiest option for Americans.

Paramedics at work

According to the NIAAA, about 70% of the U.S. adult population consumes alcohol. Unfortunately, about 25% of adult Americans drink alcohol to excess, with 14.5 million adults meeting the criteria for alcohol addiction (5% of the adult population). Further, the widespread nature of alcohol consumption in the U.S. contributes immensely to the overall harm caused by this substance. About 95,000 Americans die from alcohol-related causes each year (the CDC estimate is much higher), and alcohol contributes to at least 18% of ER visits. Alcohol is also a major factor in traffic fatalities, as it is involved in about 28% of such deaths, or about 10,142 fatal crashes per year.3

According to the CDC, about 140,000 Americans die from alcohol-related causes each year. The CDC also tracks the years of potential life lost due to premature deaths from alcohol-related accidents and health crises. According to the data, the American population loses about 3.6 million years of potential life to alcohol each year. About one in ten deaths among working-age adults 20 to 64 are caused by alcohol. And for those who do not lose their lives to alcohol but who still drink to excess, the substance poses significant health harm.4

According to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, “Emerging evidence suggests that even drinking within the recommended limits may increase the overall risk of death from various causes, such as from several types of cancer and some forms of cardiovascular disease. Alcohol has been found to increase the risk for cancer. Further, for some types of cancer, the risk increases even at low levels of alcohol consumption (less than 1 drink in a day).“ The Dietary Guidelines data may be the most significant warning of them all. For example, it is the first release of dietary guidelines in America in which public health officials recommended that Americans simply not drink alcohol at all (as opposed to drinking being okay as long as it’s in moderation).5

Addiction Treatment – What to Do When Alcohol Takes Over

Helping a loved one with alcohol addiction

Sadly, millions of Americans cannot control their drinking, with the NIAAA estimating that about 9 million men and 5.5 million women meet the criteria for alcohol addiction. Further, the extreme health crisis of alcohol addiction isn’t just a critical issue for those personally affected by it. The U.S. suffers a significant economic burden from alcohol abuse, to the tune of about $249 billion each year. According to the NIAAA, 75% of the economic toll associated with alcohol is directly caused by alcohol addiction.

Also, alcohol addiction takes a painful toll on American families, hence the need to promote substance-free living for all Americans. Again according to the NIAAA, about 10.5% of U.S. children live with at least one parent who meets the criteria for alcohol addiction. When a child is forced to grow up in a home with at least one alcohol-abusing parent, that child is several times more likely to become addicted to alcohol than children of sober parents.6

Alcohol poses a severe risk to people, especially when they become addicted to it. And now compelling evidence exists to suggest that there are zero health benefits from consuming alcohol, even in moderation, thus eliminating the “health benefit” concept as an excuse to drink.

For those who use alcohol and cannot control their drinking, a future in which they do not get help is filled with harm, danger, and potentially premature death. If someone you care about is using alcohol and cannot stop using it, please make sure they get help as soon as possible. Don’t wait until it is too late and they become just another statistic. Help them enter a drug and alcohol rehab center as soon as possible.

Sources:


  1. Biddinger KJ, Emdin CA, Haas ME, et al. Association of Habitual Alcohol Intake With Risk of Cardiovascular Disease. JAMA Netw Open. 2022. Jama Network Article ↩︎

  2. Massachusetts General Hospital. “Large study challenges the theory that light alcohol consumption benefits heart health: Any observed benefit likely results from other lifestyle factors common among light to moderate drinkers, say researchers.” ScienceDaily. 2022. Science Daily Article ↩︎

  3. NIH. “Alcohol Facts and Statistics.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. 2022. NIH Article ↩︎

  4. CDC. “Dietary Guidelines for Alcohol.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2022 CDC Article ↩︎

  5. DGA. “Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025 and Online Materials.” dietaryguidelines.gov 2022. DGA Article ↩︎

  6. NACA. “CHILDREN OF ADDICTED PARENTS: IMPORTANT FACTS.” National Association for Children of Alcoholics. NACA Publication ↩︎