Contrary to popular opinion, there’s no such thing as good alcohol use.
You may have heard, or even abided by, the old adage that some amount of alcohol taken in moderate quantities is good for you. Some people swear by a glass of red wine before bed, and others live for the casual drink at Happy Hour with their co-workers. Unfortunately, you may have heard wrong.
If recent research is anything to go by, alcohol taken in moderate quantities, while considerably less dangerous, may still be bad for you even if you’re not an avid binge drinker.
A new study published in August 2018 came to that conclusion after reviewing almost 700 existing studies on global drinking prevalence and nearly 600 studies on alcohol and health. The study concluded that alcohol was the 7th leading risk factor for premature death in 2016, contributing to 2.8 million deaths worldwide.
Sorry, beer and wine connoisseurs, there’s no easy way to say this.
All alcohol is bad alcohol
It may be a bit difficult to swallow, but we’ll show you what we mean.
For decades now, the general narrative has been that drinking is okay. It’s heralded on Super Bowl commercials, advertised as a social lubricant, and sold as a way to relieve your problems. So much so, that I believe alcohol is the most prevalent, socially-acceptable drug, which makes effective treatment for those suffering from alcohol use disorder vitally important.
But let’s not be ignorant. In order to argue one perspective, we must transparently acknowledge the other.
Some reports indicate that moderate drinking is generally said to be good for your health. In some instances, it has been linked to lower risk of heart attacks and even longer life.
This narrative has been accepted by several authoritative bodies including the American government. For instance, it is written into the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and is supported by respected organizations such as the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society.
If you’re first thought is, “Aha! So you’re saying I can drink.” you may want to read a little further.
This new study funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is poking holes in that narrative. According to the study coordinator, Emmanuela Gakidou, a professor at the University of Washington, “The evidence is adding up that no amount of drinking is safe”.
The study found that even one alcoholic beverage per day increases your risk of developing one of 23 alcohol-related health problems including cancer and tuberculosis by at least 0.5%. At 2 drinks per day and the risk gets significantly higher, with an increased risk of 7%. At 5 drinks per day, the risk is 37% higher than non-drinkers.
And that’s just the beginning. Other experts have come to the same conclusion that all alcohol is bad for you. In May this year, the World Cancer Research Fund released a report that said, as it concerns cancer prevention at least, “it’s best not to drink alcohol”. In 2016, the UK government made a similar recommendation.
Another study conducted in April this year found that levels of alcohol previously thought to be relatively harmless are linked to people dying earlier. The study also suggested that even the touted heart health benefits of small amounts of alcohol may have been overstated.
What is most startling about the risk of alcohol is: there was evidence, as far back as three decades ago, that alcohol is pretty risky for folks. But no one really knew or paid any attention to it.
For instance, you probably don’t know that as far back as 1988, the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer fingered alcohol as a level-one carcinogen.
Unfortunately, many find out the risks of alcohol way too late, as Stephanie Mencimer did only when she was already diagnosed with stage two cancer.
While there may be some argument over whether all alcohol use is bad.
Binge drinking and alcohol abuse are definitely much worse
But, you probably don’t need us to tell you this. As the studies referenced above show, alcohol taken in small quantities can be damaging to your health. Taken in the substantial quantities that are common place for binge drinkers, well, that’s nothing short of a suicide run.
Binge drinking, also called heavy drinking, is the most common form of drug abuse. If there’s one thing everyone agrees on, it’s that binge drinking is one of the most damaging pastimes that a body can be involved in.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, binge drinking occurs when a man consumes 5 or more drinks within a 2-hour period or a woman consumes 4 or more drinks within the same period. But while most people who binge drink are not alcohol dependent, this heavy drinking is one of the most common, costly and deadly patterns of excessive alcohol use in the U.S.
It is ritual in almost every American college, every tailgate, and it’s pretty much the norm for the guys to “grab a few beers” on the way home from work. Before you consider partaking in these events, I encourage you to know your boundaries and look over this laundry list of examples of how alcohol affects your body:
- Liver disease: One of the major functions of the liver is to neutralize the toxic substances you consume, a la alcohol. While it’s very effective at its job, it needs a break, like every overworked salesperson. Binge drinking can cause your liver to become inflamed or even worse, allow your liver cells die and give you cirrhosis.
- Impaired brain function: Excessive alcohol use can reduce communication between your brain cells. When you graduate to alcohol abuse, it may permanently damage your brain, increase your risk of dementia and even cause brain shrinkage in middle-aged and older adults.
- Depression: Many people take alcohol to help with depression. But the Catch-22 here is that their depression may actually be caused by alcohol. Studies have shown that treating underlying alcohol abuse problems leads to big improvements in a body’s mental health outlook.
- Heart disease: Even though some studies say small amounts of alcohol can help with heart attacks, that’s probably all the gain you’ll see as far as heart health is concerned. Alcohol use and binge drinking generally still increase cardiovascular risks including stroke, aortic aneurysm and heart failure.
- Cancer: Any amount of alcohol consumption increases your risk factor for cancers of the mouth, throat, colon, breast and liver. Just one drink per day can increase your risk of cancerous growths by as much as 20%. Five drinks a day, and you might as well be running a manufacturing plant for those suckers.
- Birth defects: What most fail to understand is that alcohol consumption and binge drinking affect those around us just as much as they affect us. Alcohol abuse during pregnancy can have adverse effects on a fetus’ development, growth, intelligence and behavior. These are effects it may carry for life.
- Alcohol Use Disorder: While binge drinking is not exactly alcoholism, it’s just one short stop away from a life that is utterly controlled by the craving for alcohol. And the risk only increases with every new bottle downed.
Is it okay to tip one back every now and then?
Some advocates, such as breweries and sommeliers argue yes, while others of us in the addiction treatment field argue no. But, do you really want to gamble with your health?
What we know is that alcohol has several nasty outcomes for those that indulge. Can it help you live longer or stave off a heart attack? The evidence is shaky at best. And the truth is: whatever esoteric benefit they say alcohol has in store for you, it’s certainly heavily outweighed by the disastrous consequences that lie in wait.
Stick with what’s certain. Alcohol will kill you quicker than you think. There’s no amount of alcohol that’s good for you – don’t trick yourself. And from first-hand experience in treating those suffering from drug and alcohol abuse, there’s just bad alcohol.
If you really want to kick the habit or if you’re having a hard time just figuring out what you want, don’t panic. It’s okay to feel that way. You didn’t get where you are in one day and the chances that you’ll see a full turnaround in one day are slim.
But what you can do is take it one day at a time. Start by reaching out to us treatment professionals as we’ll work with you on acquiring healthier habits, essential life and coping skills, and go from there. If you need help figuring a way out of your alcohol use, you can contact us at (817) 993-9733 or visit our website here.
John Eckelbarger is a Business Development Representative for Stonegate Center. With a BSA in Chemistry from the University of Texas at Austin, he has an interest in the neurobiology of addiction & pharmacology of drugs. He hopes to bolster Stonegate Center to the forefront of addiction medicine through bold, innovative content. He is currently pursuing his MBA in Finance from Texas Christian University.