3 Common Misconceptions About Drinking

Is any amount of alcohol actually good for our health?

Posted Oct 15, 2018

In 2016, alcohol was associated with 88,000 deaths in the United States and 2.8 million deaths in the world. Unlike other harmful substances like heroin or cocaine, it's one hundred percent legal. In fact, alcohol has been historically used for medicinal purposes for almost as long as we know of its use. If our government condones alcohol consumption and the stuff’s been essentially medicine in the past, then it can't be all bad, right?  

We’ve all heard statements like these before:

  1. Drinking too much is bad for your health.
  2. Drinking is fine as long as it’s in moderation.
  3. A glass of red wine a day keeps heart disease away…

Statements like these are confusing and contradictory. It’s hard to know what to do.

So, should we avoid drinking too much, too little and drink just the right amount to balance the health benefits and risks? Or is abstinence really your best option for optimal health? Let’s examine three common misconceptions about alcohol consumption.

Alcohol is only bad for your health if you drink ALL THE TIME

Let’s set the record straight: Drinking frequently and heavily is bad for your health. If you’re someone who can’t stop drinking when you want to, or you drink heavily every single day, then you may have a problem…

Long-term, heavy and frequent alcohol consumption can really take a toll on the body. It can cause:

·       Liver damage

·       Increased blood pressure

·       Cardiovascular (heart and lung) problems

·       Cancer of the mouth, throat, stomach, breast, liver or colon.

This will be unsurprising to most of you, as the research has been telling us for many decades that “alcoholism” is deadly. You’ll want to read my thoughts on what “alcoholism” really means since it’s an antiquated term that probably doesn’t tell us much about anyone… But I digress. What you may not realize is that heavy and frequent drinking is not the only drinking behavior that can be destructive to your health and wellbeing.

Occasional binge-drinking is totally fine

Have you ever consumed more than four or five standard drinks within a two-hour period? I bet many of you will say yes. Did you know that this kind of drinking behavior is considered binge drinking? Even if you don’t drink every night, the large consumption of alcohol in a short period is known as binge drinking, and binge drinking can be bad for your health. This is especially true if it's done somewhat frequently.

This has been supported by a recent study at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) which examined the effects of binge drinking on the liver function of mice. They found in just seven weeks of sporadic binge drinking there was significant damage to the liver. Even more interesting were the findings that binge drinking was more harmful to the liver than moderate daily drinking. After twenty-one binge drinking sessions, the mice were found to have early-stage liver cancer. I talk more about these findings in a previous article.

This means that not only is drinking heavily in short periods of time causing liver damage and long-term health problems, but a pattern of binge drinking is also problematic. It makes sense, given the fact that your liver’s primary job is to clear your blood of toxins and alcohol is, after all, a toxin. Overburden your liver with a night of very heavy drinking, and the liver will need time to recover. And if you don’t give it enough time, it will cause long-term damage.

Drinking in moderation is GOOD for your health

Have you ever heard the notion that a glass of red wine is good for your heart? This sounds promising! You mean I can drink a glass of Shiraz every day, and it will actually make my heart healthier than if I don’t drink?

Only, this may not really be the case.

While there has been research to support the reduced risk of developing heart disease, gallstones and type 2 diabetes for people who drink in “moderation” compared to those who do not drink alcohol at all. There’s also research to suggest that even drinking in moderation can have an adverse effect on other aspects of your health.

But, what exactly is ‘drinking in moderation?’ For one person it may be one drink, whereas for another it may be four drinks. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2015-2020), moderate drinking is no more than one to two drinks per day for men, and no more than one drink a day for women.

There could be endless reasons for the competing evidence, but in the end, alcohol is probably not to be thought of as a medicine or cure for much… And if you’re regularly so stressed that you feel like you “need” a drink (this is an incredibly common complaint for the people I work with), it’s time to rethink those aspects of life that are causing stress, not just pour another drink (for more on this, check out my recent book The Abstinence Myth).

When do the risks outweigh the benefits?

Like in any life decision, we need to weigh up the risks vs. the benefits when it comes to alcohol consumption. While moderate drinking may reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes in some populations, there are also serious health risks, even when drinking one to two standard drinks a day.

If you can relate to any of the following circumstances, then the health risks related to drinking alcohol are likely to outweigh the benefits:

·       Pregnant

·       Already experiencing liver disease

·       Taking certain medications (especially opioids, anxiety medications, antibiotics, antidepressants, and anti-inflammatory drugs like Tylenol, Aleve and Motrin)

·       Experiencing severe alcohol problems

So, take all this information with a grain of salt (with or without with that shot of tequila), because there are probably no actual overall health benefits to drinking alcohol that seriously outweigh the negative consequences of it.

Now, just because alcohol isn’t good for you, doesn’t mean you have to give it up (otherwise, KUWTK would be off the air and all you can eat buffets would disappear).

So should you give up alcohol altogether?

For some people, the answer is yes. Especially if you are already at high risk of developing liver or heart disease due to past drinking, medications you’re taking or family history.

But for others, this may not be the case.  

I've previously used excessive amounts of alcohol (think high-school and college), and I still drink socially now. I don’t drink because I think it will make me healthier or help me deal with my life, I drink because I find it enjoyable and it’s an experience I share with close friends. The clients I have who experience successful long-term drinking have worked through the struggles that made them want to escape in the past.

In other words, we don't have to refrain from drinking altogether, but the debate is still open on whether or not there are health benefits of doing so. It's fine to drink in moderation (we're not actually doing any damage to our bodies—though the aforementioned people with serious health risks may), but we shouldn’t be drinking alcohol thinking that it’s going to increase our health and wellbeing.

The best thing you can do for your health is to keep up-to-date, know the facts and make an informed decision about what’s best for YOU and your health.

Do you want to get your alcohol use in check?

Now it’s time to examine your own drinking habits. Are you a binge-drinker, regular drinker, or do you only drink in moderation (we have an online test here)? What are the reasons behind why you drink? You may be surprised by what motivates you to drink. Whether it’s loneliness, a confidence boost or to improve your mood, you’ll probably find the reason why you began drinking is different to what maintains your drinking. 

Is alcohol causing problems in your health or other aspects of your life? Finding it hard to reduce your consumption or give up altogether? I've been there, and it is HARD. That’s why I created the IGNTD Recovery Program, to help people like you (and me!), to take back control of your life without having to give up alcohol first- but you will probably find that you no longer need (or want!) to drink once you’ve completed the program.