Can’t drinking alcohol be good for you?

one drink of alcohol

Q: I heard “moderate” alcohol use is good for you.  Is that true? 

A:  We typically define moderation as no more than 1 alcoholic drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men.  How do you define one drink? 12 oz beer (one regular can/bottle), 5 oz wine or 1.5 oz hard liquor (one shot).  This isn’t averaged over the week, by the way – if you have 7 drinks on Saturday night and nothing the rest of the week, that doesn’t count!

So are there benefits to drinking in moderation?  It is true that moderate alcohol consumption reduces your risk of having a heart attack, stroke, gallstones, and possibly even the risk of developing diabetes.  But put that bottle down!  This is great news for your Dad, but not so much for you.

All of those diseases are much more common in men, old people and people with significant risk factors for heart disease.  For young adults – i.e. YOU – moderate alcohol use increases the risk of the most common causes of death (like trauma and breast cancer) and is unlikely to provide any significant health benefit.  And it’s not just about life span either; alcohol use can lead to injuries, unsafe sexual practices (and their ensuing infections) and other kinds of yuckiness that can make life less pleasant.

You ladies out there should be especially careful when it comes to booze.  There is evidence that drinking more than 1 drink per day in your 20s and 30s can increase your lifetime risk of breast cancer. Studies have shown that taking folate supplements decreases this risk – but you should be taking daily folate anyways, since it reduces risk of birth defects, and we know that 50% of pregnancies are unplanned! Alcohol use during pregnancy can also lead to miscarriage and fetal alcohol syndrome: the #1 preventable cause of mental retardation in children.  Unfortunately, many women don’t even know they are pregnant until the damage has been done. 

So how do you know if your level of drinking is a problem?  Signs of problem drinking may include:

  • You’ve ever felt the need to cut down on your drinking
  • You’ve been annoyed by people telling you that you need to cut down on your drinking
  • It’s caused problems in your relationships, school, work, or especially the law
  • You’ve ever felt guilty about your drinking
  • You’ve ever needed a drink first thing in the morning to cure a hangover or steady your nerves (“hair of the dog,” “eye opener”)

If you’ve ever experienced any of these issues, please talk to the staff at Student Health Services or the counselors at the Student Wellness Center.  We are here to help!

Angela Walker, Med IV (OSU COM)

John A. Vaughn, MD (OSU SHS)