top view of hands holding alcoholic drinks at a bar

Your light drinking habits may not really be healthy

It seems that the benefits of light-to-moderate drinking have been overstated over the years as they did not take into account other risk factors such as smoking.

Researchers from Penn State University examined the drinking habits of more than 9000 people across England, Scotland and Wales born in 1958, who were participating in the longitudinal National Child Development Study.

The researchers examined patterns of cigarette and alcohol use from young adulthood (age 23) to midlife (age 55) and tracked how they related to the Health of the participants.

Light-to-moderate drinkers suffered poor health in midlife if they were former smokers or still had an occasional cigarette. This may be due to the direct effect of smoking or other risk factors such as lack of exercise or obesity.

The results showed that about a third of the men and women who reported light to moderate alcohol consumption (drank within current U.K. low-risk guidelines of not exceeding 14 units of alcohol per week) and abstained from smoking from young adulthood to midlife, enjoyed the best health and quality of life in middle age compared to the three other groups – those who drank lightly to moderately but also smoked; those who both drank more heavily and smoked; and those who refrained from drinking alcohol or reduced their drinking over time.

The other three groups experienced more health problems in middle age.

Light to moderate drinkers suffered poor health in midlife if they were former smokers or still had an occasional cigarette. This may be due to the direct effect of smoking or other risk factors such as lack of exercise or obesity.

Midlife abstainers began their adult life in poorer health than those who completely abstained from alcohol.

People who abstain from alcohol is a diverse group as it includes former drinkers who stopped drinking due to problems with alcohol, or due to poor health, besides including lifetime abstainers.

About one in five of the 55 year olds who reported that they had never drunk alcohol in their lives had previously reported drinking when they were younger. This indicates that those who drink very little may tend to forget or misremember and under-report their drinking habits which can skew the results of studies which includes this group as lifetime abstainers and will result in overstating the harms of abstaining.

Drinking habits were also tracked along with levels of education which found that those with fewer or low levels of education were among those who did not drink or drank modestly when those with the highest educational qualification at age 23 who were more likely to drink at a light-to-moderate pace throughout their adult life but unlikely to smoke.

The findings reported in this study suggest that it is dangerous to report only the health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption as drinking has many health risks. It is important to take into account other factors which shape alcohol consumption such as education, health in earlier life and lifestyle factors such as smoking. These could be the real underlying causes which connect drinking with health at midlife.

The study goes on to prove that previously reported health benefits of drinking are smaller than what we previously thought.

Source: Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs

Meena Azzollini

Meena Azzollini

Meena is passionate about holistic wellbeing, alternative healing, health and personal power and uses words to craft engaging feature articles to convey her knowledge and passion. She is a freelance writer and content creator from Adelaide, Australia, who draws inspiration from family, travel and her love for books and reading.

A yoga practitioner and a strong believer in positive thinking, Meena is also a mum to a very active young boy. In her spare time, she loves to read and whip up delicious meals. She also loves the smell of freshly made coffee and can’t ever resist a cheesecake. And she gets tickled pink by anything funny!

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