The signs are everywhere: "Mommy needs her wine". "Save water, drink beer". "It's 5-o-clock somewhere". America is quite known for suggesting alcohol as a simple and quick fix for life's stressors. As an addiction expert and someone who also believes human beings deserve accessible ways to alleviate their pain and suffering, this is a very nuanced conversation.
The answer depends on both the short and the long-term goal.
On March 31st, when the JAMA Article titled "Association Between Daily Alcohol Intake and Risk of All-Cause Mortality: A Systematic Review and Meta-analyses" (Baldwin et al., 2023) was released, new stations and thus social media blew up with a discussion around not only how much we should drink, but if we should at all.
The review looked at how much alcohol people drank in a day and their risk of dying. 107 studies were assessed that included a total of 4.8 million people.
Although we’ve heard for years that moderate amounts of alcohol are good for our health (read: “A glass of red wine a day can help prevent a heart attack”), this study showed this to be false.
The more someone drank, the higher the risk of them dying. Plain and simple.
And this increased risk starts with just 40 or more grams of alcohol (which is just a little over one ounce) leading to a frightening 61% increased risk of death, compared to those who did not drink alcohol. While the study couldn’t “prove” that alcohol caused the increased risk of dying (correlation doesn’t equal causation), it does show a strong, significant association.
Now, as much as this study suggests alcohol isn’t good for us, neither are many of the reasons why we drink: stress, anxiety, pain, interpersonal conflict, sensory sensitivities, household overwhelm, job burnout, and so much more.
When the short-term goal of drinking is pain alleviation, social interaction, or “drinking for the taste”, the pleasurable payoff may be personally worth the health risk.
When the long-term goal of drinking is a major coping skill, a necessary social lubricant, or “I need a beer everywhere we go”, the risks tend to outweigh the immediate benefits provided.
While the signs may point us in the direction of drinking for all life’s purposes, it’s important we understand how alcohol affects us in the present and in the future. Studies will continue to find out what’s best for us health-wise, and we need to make the most healthy decisions for ourselves immediately.
If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol use or addiction, please visit https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help for immediate resources and support. You are not in this alone.
Please consult your medical doctor or other licensed healthcare professional to determine your personal health risk as it relates to alcohol use.
Click here to read the JAMA article. (We always recommend this as you deserve to draw your own conclusions!)
Get Dr. Courtney's articles + helpful mental health news straight in your inbox.
Bi-weekly emails mental health news and education. Simple, curated, and safe. We will never spam you.