Are there any positive effects of drinking alcohol?

Stanton,

Are there any positive effects of drinking alcohol?

Al


Dear Al:

There are many. The primary health benefits that have been noted from alcohol are a reduction in coronary heart disease, the number one killer in America, and the reduction in ischemic stroke, or stroke due to occlusion of the arteries in the brain due to plaque build up, which is the number three killer. Because of alcohol’s beneficial effects in these two areas, moderate drinkers on average live longer than abstainers. Yes, Al, abstinence from alcohol is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke, and as a result for premature death.

Public health agencies have been so flamboozled by this finding that they constantly seek to understate it (this process is currently taking place in the formulation of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, which are released by the departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services every five years). The systematic distortions of the data in this area are worth noting briefly in order to refute them:

  1. The benefits of moderate drinking for heart disease and mortality are not well established.
    In fact, by now about fifty studies have discovered that moderate drinkers live longer on average than abstainers. So many studies of this type have been published that a number of meta-analyses have been conducted — these are studies that construct statistical models based on the combined results of individual studies. Perhaps the most renown epidemiologist in the world, Sir Richard Doll (whose picture hangs in Britain’s National Portrait Gallery), has termed the evidence for alcohol’s salutary effects for the heart as “massive.”
  2. Behaviors aside from drinking, such as diet, account for the longer lives of moderate drinkers, or else results of such studies are misleading because many abstainers quit drinking due to illness or a drinking problem.
    No reputable epidemiological study of alcohol in the last ten years has failed to control for other likely health behaviors or conditions, like diet or weight and smoking. Likewise, any epidemiological study of alcohol conducted today either eliminates those who abstain for health reasons, analyzes only lifetime abstainers, or in other ways guarantees that the abstainer category is not weighed down by the sick and alcoholic.
  3. Since generally only older individuals die of heart disease, the benefits noted for alcohol apply only to those over the age of fifty.
    In fact, the largest study yet published on the effects of drinking on overall mortality, conducted by the American Cancer Society with a half million Americans, found that men and women over age 30 lived longer on average when they drank moderately. Of course, it is likely that such benefits begin to accrue before the age of 30 even though their consequences do not appear until later (particularly considering that atherosclerosis has been noted in Americans in their twenties and even younger).

It is ironic that groups which terms themselves public service health organizations take as their task to deny the validity of overwhelming data which show that drinking moderately is for most people beneficial, even adding to their expected life span. How have they decided that their mission is to keep this news from the mass and file of Americans?

However, the really untold secret is that drinkers as a group share a number of psychological, social, and cognitive benefits over abstainers. Archie Brodsky and I have forthcoming a review of these data: during the past decade, epidemiological research has found consistent associations between moderate alcohol consumption and such beneficial psychosocial outcomes as:

  1. a subjective sense of good health;
  2. better mental health on some indicators, such as reduced anxiety and depression, especially in response to stress;
  3. better long-term cognitive functioning, usually measured in old age;
  4. better work performance, measured in higher income;
  5. better work performance, measured in reduced absence or disability;
  6. better social integration and adjustment.

Indeed, drinking successfully is one of a handful of controllable health behaviors that significantly contributes to overall physical and emotional well-being.

Stanton


Dear Stanton:

You cite in argument 3 a study that found “… that men and women over age 30 lived longer on average when they drank moderately.” How could researchers know this as most people do not die until several decades after their thirties? Was the study begun in, say, the fifties or sixties, and now the researchers are reaping the research rewards? Thank you for an extremely enlightening site. I have sent it to several of my more thoughtful friends.

Fred Ledoux


Dear Fred:

The crucial aspect of this research is that these studies are “longitudinal” or “prospective,” meaning that people are identified according to their drinking at point 1 then followed for years and their survival noted at point 2. In the American Cancer Society study, by Thun and his colleagues (New England Journal of Medicine, 337:1705-114, 1997), 490,000 men and women were followed for eight years. Of course, you wouldn’t expect a lot of people to die by age 38. This age group was actually identified as those 30-59, as opposed to those aged 60 and older, so we are examining deaths for this group occuring between the ages of 38 and 67. A total of 46,000 subjects of all ages died over the eight years, over 12,000 of them in the younger group. The investigators summarized for the entire population:

[T]he rates of death from all cardiovascular diseases combined were 30 to 40 percent lower among men (relative risk 0.7. . .) and women (relative risk 0.6. . .) reporting at least one drink daily than among nondrinkers. The largest reduction. . .occurred in mortality from coronary heart disease among drinkers who, at enrollment, had reported heart disease, stroke, or some other indication of pre-existing risk of cardiovascular disease. This subgroup contained one third of all the people in the study.*

In other words, it is for those who have developed coronary artery disease who are most likely to live longer from drinking regularly (with everything else the researchers could control for). How many doctors do you think mention this to their patients at risk for, or suffering from, heart disease?

*Nonetheless, these data do not find an advantage for women under 50 who do not have a risk factor for heart disease. Indeed, for women under forty, mortality risk “was slightly but not significantly increased.”

Best wishes for a long life,
Stanton

Have you been affected by the issues described in this story?

Many of us have been told that addiction is a chronic disease that cannot be cured. The Life Process Program® does not believe this. We believe addiction is a compelling, destructive involvement that, because it detracts from other areas of people’s lives, forces them to rely with greater exclusivity on the addictive experience they get from the involvement, whether with alcohol or anything else:

 

 

Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.

Comments

  • Terry Montagne says:

    Curious about the effect on relationships and family members who don’t drink by those who do drink even moderately. Why does alcoholism run in families? Why do people who drink regularly end up losing many friends and social connections because it seems many lie and blame others for their addiction with there need for an alcohol fix to get the brain to kick out the necessary hormones to make them feel better, but then they crash and many become intolerable being around. The social and psychological negatives of drinkers on themselves and society also is a great problem down the road, even when they feel that they were just modreate drinkers. There also seems to be an aggressive tendency among many who drink, as apposed to those who don’t. Aggressiveness is good for people in an aggrsssive type of country like the USA where competition is prized for producing more, but alcoholism is out of control in so many cases, but tolerated because it’s so much a part of the society. Alcohol is permitted in the service canteens in the miltary but if you get caught with a joint you are busted. Why? Because THC does not produce useful soldiers who go out and kill by following orders, whereas THC smokers rarely get into bar fights or want to kill people in other countries because the leadership, mostly alcoholics themselves, say you must do it to work in the military. All very puzzling to me. You are promoting a VERY aggressive substance here. Makes me think you are being paid by the alcohol lobby, just like the global warming deniers of high social profiles, are being paid by the oil companies. Methinks you are not telling the whole story. Why are you saying that abstainers are LESS healthy than drinkers? At all the VA hospitals that I go to I see programs to get people OFF alcohol, not encourage them to drink like your article is absolutely trying to do it seems, or, at least make it less of a curse, by using terms like “moderate” and “occassional”. You do know that many cannot hold their alcohol after just a few drinks, don’t you? You do realise that many go on and off trying to kick the habit because they are lightweights and they cannot seem to get their lives together even drinking moderately off and on, don’t you? I’m sure you will come up with dozens of answers to defend yourself and to counter what I am saying here. I see so much destruction of families and individuals by drinkers, and one of the most consistent behavior I see in them is their ability to start arguments and to deny they are culpible to any extent, and that its all everyone else’s fault. AA exists for a reason, and they say don’t even take that first drink, yet, here you are promoting it like you you hold the moral high ground. They say you have to give it up completely! Many become serious alcoholics by drinking just moderately, as I’ve already pointed out. What is your point in writing about all the positives of alcohol consumption, when it is one of the most ruthless and cunning of substances, which led to Prohibition in the first place. TV is full of ads promoting its use among young people, showing them being super popular pouring a drink among their friends at a beach somewhere. Beaches seem synonymous with drinking now. Great that the booze companies are allowed to advertise a product that will claim millions of lives down the road, but drink moderately they say also, so the deadly and dark secret can be swept under the carpet and billions can be made by alcohol companies who don’t care, just like the cigarette companies don’t care about the lies they promoted for years, and the lives they destroyed in the process. How can they live with themselves, and how can you live with yourself when you know deep down that your article will affect thousands of young people who will use it as an example to make it alright to drink, because “I read it in an article on the internet”. What a deception, kinda like “fighting for peace is like fornicating for chastity”, ya??? Watch this reply never make in onto the comments, or, deleted quickly if it does………………understandable and predictable!

    • websiteni-admin says:

      Terry,

      That was quite a diatribe.

      Where to begin?

      Well, let me start with this statement (posed as a question): “Why do people who drink regularly end up losing many friends and social connections because it seems many lie and blame others for their addiction.”

      Of course, what is first notable is that you jump from “drink regularly” to addiction. You believe that I am operating under preset assumptions, do you?

      In fact, moderate drinking and sociability are strongly associated — so much so that a former director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (a group not given to saying good things about alcohol), Enoch Gordis, did a series of studies on the social and psychological benefits of making alcohol available to elderly people during meals.

      I review this and other research in a peer-reviewed article in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence here. I have more recently responded to the recommendation of a WHO expert committee that people not drink at all — that any drinking is pure risk — with this analysis: “Five Harmful Anti-Alcohol Myths and the Evidence Against Them.

      But, Terry, I don’t suspect any of my analytic pieces will impress you or change your mind. So let me turn to a personal story.

      I recently attended the 60th birthday party of a musician friend. It was a surprise party held for him at the home of a close friend of his in Brooklyn. In general, Terry, people with individual homes in Brooklyn are wealthy. But these people are pretty middle-range for this area (called “South Slope”).

      I was especially sensitized to drinking alcohol since WHO had just issued its warning never to drink. At one point I (a light drinker) asked if I could have a soda. But nothing was available other than beer and wine (and some high-end spirits).

      There were perhaps 70 middle-aged men and women at this party. Everybody was sociable and had a wonderful time. At no time (I was there four hours) did I notice anyone do anything rude or unpleasant — certainly no one there was drunk or raucous.

      Have you ever attended a party like that, Terry? Truthfully, this is what every celebration I personally have ever attended is like. You might try to find such a gathering just to convince yourself that most drinkers living in good conditions are healthy, happy, and sociable.

      Stanton

  • Ahad says:

    Dear Stanton,
    I disagree that . In my opinin if you drank alot of alcohol or a few time just it effect in all your body Over the years. Research also shows that it effect in heart Irregular heart beat , High blood pressure and Stroke.also it can be causes desisses like : Cirrhosis , Pancreas and Cancer( Mouth, Esophagus, Throat , Liver Breast) .You must maintain your health.Prevention is better than cure

    Ahad

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