Alcohol makes the news every day. If that surprises you, you probably live under a rock.
The substance caused more than 16,000 deadly automobile accidents last year. Alcohol abuse costs more than $185 billion a year. And according to the U.S Department of Justice, alcohol plays a role in one of three violent crime cases in our country.
Without a doubt, fermented beverages have a menacing impact on society.
But is it all bad? I mean, can beer, wine, vodka and other popular drinks hold some redeeming or medicinal value? Hundreds of studies have investigated this question, and though their findings are compelling, the answer cannot be given in broad strokes.
So let’s pull out some small brushes and carefully paint an accurate picture of how alcohol may help some people.
Will Alcohol Help or Hurt Me?
The answer to this two-faceted question rests mostly in how much alcohol your talking about drinking. The differences between the effects of heavy and moderate drinking are drastic.
Heavy drinkers are threatened with a preventable death, heart and liver damage, various kinds of cancer and depression or violence.
Moderate drinking seems to be good for the heart and circulatory system, probably protects against type 2 diabetes and gallstones and may raise the levels of “good” cholesterol (Harvard Public School of Health).
But what is moderate drinking? And can it really be good for you?
If your definition of moderate drinking is a sucking down a six-pack instead of a 12-pack, you’re beyond moderation. Moderate drinkers don’t drink to get drunk.
Though the definition seems to vary from study to study, generally drinking in moderation means having no more than 2-3 drinks a day for men and no more than 1-2 for women. A drink is typically defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of spirits (hard liquor such as gin or whiskey); each delivering about 12 to 14 grams of alcohol.
But in reality, and for our purposes, moderate drinking is the point where the benefits of alcohol consumption clearly outweigh the risks. And for most people, the risks are too great.
If you fall into one of the following categories, the risk of moderate drinking probably outweigh the benefits. These are only a few examples:
- You were previously addicted to alcohol.
- You’re pregnant.
- Your family has a history of alcoholism.
- You have liver disease.
- You are a male under the age of 30.
Alcohol’s Helping Side
The risks of alcohol generally do not outweighed the benefits until after middle age. In my research, I discovered limited scenarios where alcohol (in moderation) seemed to consistently play a positive role in someone’s health.
Men: If you are approaching your 60s and aren’t prone to alcoholism, than a drink a day may outweigh the the harms that typically come with alcohol. The potential benefits include protection against heart disease, better sensitivity to insulin, and improvement in blood clotting factors (National Center for Biotechnology Institute)
Women: For women it’s tricky. Although heart disease is an issue, so is breast cancer. Studies have demonstrated that women who consume alcohol increase their risk of breast cancer and those who reduce their consumption reduce their breast cancer risk. (National Center for Biotechnology Institute) But because 460,000 women die from heart disease a year and only 41,000 from breast cancer, the benefits of moderate alcohol intake are still possible.
Alcohol Consumption: A Concluding Note
If you don’t drink, then there’s no reason to start. The benefits of moderate alcohol consumption can easily be achieved through a good diet, consistent exercise, and a healthy lifestyle.
If alcoholics across the country began to limit themselves to one drink a day, there would probably be fewer heart attacks and cardiovascular related surgeries every year. But because alcohol is addictive by its nature, this is unlikely to ever happen.