You’ve likely heard that having an occasional glass of wine benefits the drinkers health.
I know I’ve heard it.
A 2004 study published by the Oxford University Press cited evidence that lighter drinkers are at a lower risk of coronary heart disease and stroke (Klatsky 324). The study mentioned the myriad of health concerns for heavy drinkers and binge drinkers: high blood pressure and heart rhythm disturbances to name two. Klatsky found that wine, especially red, might provide extra protection against heart-related ailments, so long as drinkers observe a healthy threshold of intake.
To better define that threshold, Klatsky referred to a century-old common sense measurement known as the “Anstie Rule”. The rule recommended a limit of three drinks daily. This rule, according to Klatsky, “was intended to apply primarily to mature men, but Sir Anstie was a distinguished neurologist and public health activist who emphasized individual variability in the ability to handle alcohol” (327).
This common sense approach is proliferated in popular opinion. You don’t have to have read this 2004 study to have heard that drinking a glass of red wine daily is good for you. “Wine O’Clock” is a popular term for parents who drink wine once their children are asleep. Not to get a buzz, mind you, but because it’s good for you.
For the person who suffers from alcoholism, no amount of alcohol is a good idea. The very definition of alcoholism is the inability to control one’s consumption. Often, the alcoholic mind will tell the sufferer that she can have one drink. But once one drink is in the system, another drink follows. And then another drink, inexplicably, follows that.
I have had first hand account of this phenomena of craving. In my drinking career, having one drink or only a few drinks, sounded like a fine idea. At one point, I kept the pull tabs I tore off of beer cans in my pocket to keep track of my consumption and monitor my intake. Usually, in the morning, the tabs would be gone and I would wake up with the taste of tequila in my mouth. I could never keep track of those tabs like I intended.
A key line of reasoning for alcoholics to understand is that the first drink gets you drunk. Because drunks possess a high tolerance for the effects produced by alcohol, the heavy-drinker can easily rationalize that it is not the first drink, but the fourth or fifth, maybe sixth that gets him drunk. But if the first drink leads inevitably to the fourth or sixth or twelfth, than there is no getting drunk without that first sip. And, thankfully, if the first sip never happens, the excess can be avoided.
For those who might not identify as alcoholic, public opinion for several decades has held that small amounts of alcohol consumed on occasion can be good for your cardiovascular health.
New studies are surfacing which point to the harmful effects of alcohol, even for those capable of enjoying the drug in small amounts.
A Springer study conducted by a host of contributors found that alcohol of any amount created a risk for breast cancer in Mexican women. The study was a population-based case-control study of 1,000 breast cancer cases (863). The study found that, at least with Mexican woman, any alcohol intake increases the risk of breast cancer.
While this may be true only for Mexican woman, it is enough to question the common sense threshold of healthy drinking that has dominated the new millennium’s popular opinion.
Another recent study addressed the population bias in Klatsky’s findings: “Western observational studies show moderate alcohol use, compared with never use, positively associated with health. Moderate users differ systematically from others, making these observations vulnerable to confounding” (1054). The Hong Kong based study found that moderate drinkers tend to be the more affluent and well off, so sampling moderate drinkers is going to favor the cardiovascularly healthy before alcohol consumption is taken into consideration. Rather than focusing on the effect of alcohol, this study analyzed the health attributes of its moderate consumers.
Having written all this, I often feel like returning to my days of health class in high school. Alcohol is, fundamentally, a toxin. The effect produced by alcohol is a result of the human bodies inability to process the chemicals in drink. If any common sense threshold should be used, it is the threshold of abstinent. Poisoning your body is never the best thing you can do.
You can’t always trust popular opinion.
I’ve heard recently, for example, that psychotropic mushrooms are the new health craze. People have reported and research is being conducted to prove the worthiness of psychedelics for sufferers from different traumas, including drug abuse.
While research is still inconclusive, my common sense response is that solving one drug problem with another will never be the best practice solution. Of course, there are circumstances that warrant the intervention of drugs for a solution to problems in brain chemistry and mood disorders. But I seriously doubt if any empirical studies will ever yield drugs as the answer to drug problems.
While the science of alcohol’s effect on the body continues to work its way through the myths that have dominated western opinion, it is safer to say, whether you suffer from alcohol abuse or not, that if you want to be healthy, total abstinence is best.