We all heard that drinking moderately is good for us. But is that really true? Experts recommend that if you don’t already drink you shouldn’t start. So, perhaps drinking is not that great. And even though many people think they are light drinkers, they often are way past moderation. So, what would happen if you did stop drinking?

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There might be benefits to alcohol drinking, but …

Moderate alcohol intake is associated with a lower risk of diabetes, gallstones, and heart disease and there have even been studies suggesting that drinkers outlive people who don’t drink. But most of the research on alcohol consist of large epidemiological studies that only show correlation, not causation. In other words, people who drink moderately might also do other things that keep them healthier. They might have a lower-stress personality, a healthier overall lifestyle, or good social connections and support. We can’t be sure how big of a role alcohol consumption itself plays.

You might be drinking more than moderately

Even if alcohol was the cause of all those benefits, we are talking about light to moderate amounts. Moderate drinking is defined as up to 1 standard drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men; and no more than 3-4 drinks per drinking session. What’s a standard drink?

• 355 ml beer (5% alcohol)
• 150 ml glass of wine (12.5% alcohol)
• 45 ml of liquor (40% alcohol)

If you have a drink or two couple times a week and a few more on Friday or Saturday then you’re likely defined as moderate heavy drinker already. Studies also show that people routinely underestimate their alcohol consumption. And this can be serious because the health risks of heavy drinking are pretty serious; not to mention the “hold my beer and watch” effect.

Czech cyclist Roman Kreuziger drinks a glass of beer after winning the 48th edition of the Amstel Gold Race in Valkenburg, Netherlands, 14 April 2013.

Is it worth it to stop?

It is clear there are risks when drinking too much but even moderate amounts can cause sleep disruption and weight gain or stalled weight loss. So, it’s better to think of alcohol drinking as a trade-off, something that’s probably fine when you’re healthy but maybe not when you have athletic goals, or dealing with sleep or weight issues.

Keep drinking when

• It brings you pleasure. If you truly enjoy the taste of wine, beer, or hard alcohol.
• It relaxes you. Just like a good meal, your favourite drink should help you slow down and enjoy the present moment.
• It helps you be creative. Being tipsy has been shown to help with problem-solving and out-of-the-box thinking.
• It allows you to connect with people. Social bonding can contribute to your health and longevity and with a bit of alcohol in your blood stream it is much easier.

Avoid alcohol when

• You are stressed. Self-medicating with alcohol is not the solution and it can lead to a downward spiral.
• It’s a habit. Some habits are good but this is not one of them.
• You’re doing it for others. People who are pressuring you into drinking when you don’t feel like it probably don’t have you best interest at heart.
• You think it’s good for your health.

To sum up, it’s better to forget about the potential health benefits of alcohol. There are plenty of better ways to reduce your risk of chronic diseases like eating well, exercising, and not smoking. Consider the downsides and your goals and then decide if it’s worth it for you.

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