Those Studies Saying Moderate Drinking Has Benefits? Forget 'Em

Increasingly, alcohol guidelines are saying you should drink less—or not at all
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 11, 2024 5:05 PM CDT
Those Studies Saying Moderate Drinking Has Benefits? Forget 'Em
   (Getty Images / Andris Salmins)

It's wine time. Beer Thirty. Happy hour. Five o'clock somewhere. Maybe it's also time to rethink drinking? Moderate drinking was once thought to have benefits for the heart, but better research methods have thrown cold water on that, the AP reports. Alcohol guidelines vary a lot from country to country but the overall trend is toward drinking less. The United Kingdom, France, Denmark, Holland, and Australia recently reviewed new evidence and lowered their alcohol consumption recommendations. Ireland will require cancer warning labels on alcohol starting in 2026. "The scientific consensus has shifted due to the overwhelming evidence linking alcohol to over 200 health conditions, including cancers, cardiovascular diseases and injuries," says a Europe regional adviser for alcohol at the World Health Organization.

  • From Dry January to Sober October to bartenders getting creative with mocktails, there's a cultural vibe that supports cutting back. "People my age are way more accepting of it," said Tessa Weber, 28, of Austin, Texas. She stopped drinking for Dry January because she'd noticed alcohol was increasing her anxiety. She liked the results—better sleep, more energy—and has stuck with it.
  • As for the idea that moderate drinking might have health benefits, that came from imperfect studies comparing people by how much they drink. None of the studies randomly assigned people to drink or not drink, so they couldn't prove cause and effect. People who report drinking moderately tend to have higher levels of education, higher incomes, and better access to health care, says the director of the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research at the University of Victoria in British Columbia. "When you adjust for those things, the benefits tend to disappear," he said.

  • Another problem: Most studies didn't include younger people. Almost half of people who die from alcohol-related causes die before the age of 50. "If you're studying people who survived into middle age, didn't quit drinking because of a problem and didn't become a heavy drinker, that's a very select group," the director says. "It creates an appearance of a benefit for moderate drinkers that is actually a statistical illusion."
  • Other studies compare people with a gene variant that makes it unpleasant to drink to people without the gene variant. Those with the variant tend to drink very little or not at all. One study found those people have a lower risk of heart disease—another blow to the idea that alcohol protects people from heart problems.
More here. (More alcohol is bad for you stories.)

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