Monday, September 13, 2010

Bartender, Make Mine a Double

Heavy Drinkers Outlive Nondrinkers by Years:

A new paper in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research suggests that — for reasons that aren't entirely clear — abstaining from alcohol does tend to increase one's risk of dying, even when you exclude former problem drinkers. The most shocking part? Abstainers' mortality rates are higher than those of heavy drinkers. (See pictures of booze under a microscope.)

Moderate drinking, which is defined as one to three drinks per day, is associated with the lowest mortality rates in alcohol studies. Moderate alcohol use (especially when the beverage of choice is red wine) is thought to improve heart health, circulation and sociability, which can be important because people who are isolated don't have as many family members and friends who can notice and help treat health problems.

The 1,824 participants were followed for 20 years. Just over 69% of the abstainers died during the 20 years, 60% of the heavy drinkers died and only 41% of moderate drinkers died
Interesting. While the physical health benefit of alcohol consumption has been researched the most over the years, I would pay more attention to the social variables. Those who have stronger social networks and social ties (even of the drinking variety) receive mental health benefits that abstainers don't.
One important reason is that alcohol lubricates so many social interactions, and social interactions are vital for maintaining mental and physical health. As I pointed out last year, nondrinkers show greater signs of depression than those who allow themselves to join the party.
Throw in other covariates such as socioeconomic status (abstaining increases as you go down the SES ladder), exercise participation (which declines), diet (worsens), and the like, and you begin to understand the fuller picture: the wealthier live longer, happier, more social lives than the poor.

Regardless, moderate drinking seems to be key. Like so many things (as my grandmother said), everything in moderation...including moderation.

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