Breaking Down the Findings from Two New Alcohol Studies
The month of May brings warmer temperatures, more daylight, and a renewed sense of enthusiasm and social energy. With more time spent outdoors, this month is also host to numerous holidays that revolve around drinking alcohol. For example, May 5th, Cinco de Mayo, has been adopted by many Americans and companies that distribute alcohol as a day to drink margaritas and other tequila-infused concoctions. On May 20th, hard liquor lovers worldwide celebrate World Whisky Day, and May 25th is lauded as National Wine Day. At the end of the month, many kick off the start of summer vacation with a beer-infused Memorial Day barbecue.
Because the current culture is so saturated with tributes to alcohol, it can be easy to underestimate the effects of alcohol on your health. However, researchers devoted to studying the effects of drinking alcohol on long-term outcomes have recently found that even moderate drinking is not good for your health. Fortunately, another recent study suggests a simple solution to cutting back on drugs and alcohol if you’re struggling to banish the bottle.
Whether you’re a public health communicator or a member of the general public, being up to date about the latest evidence regarding alcohol and its relationship to modern life is essential. Here’s what you need to know about two recent alcohol-related research investigations.
Even Moderate Drinking is Not Good for Your Health
Past recommendations on drinking alcohol suggested that only heavy drinking or binge drinking was associated with negative health outcomes and that low or moderate drinking may have a protective effect on all-cause mortality. However, the results from a recent systemic review and meta-analysis involving more than 4.8 million people demonstrate that there is actually no protective effect of low or moderate alcohol consumption on all-cause mortality. Researchers derived these conclusions by reclassifying data, noting that in former studies on alcohol, people who were coded as “abstainers” may have had confounding health histories, such as chronic diseases that forced them to quit drinking, including alcohol addiction.
Instead of a protective effect of alcohol, the researchers found that:
- There was no protective effect on all-cause mortality of low-volume drinking (less than 25 grams or less than two alcoholic drinks daily) compared to not drinking alcohol.
- There was an increased risk of all-cause mortality for people who drank 25g or more of daily alcohol (this was defined as “moderate drinking”).
- There was a significantly increased risk of all-cause mortality for people who drank 45g or more of daily alcohol (equivalent to four drinks).
As people increased their alcohol intake beyond moderate, the negative impact on health outcomes increased, especially in women. These results stand in contrast to the notion that having a glass of wine with dinner can benefit your health, as there was no protective effect seen when compared to not drinking at all.
Exercise Can Be a Powerful Tool to Help People Cut Back on Drinking and Using Drugs
After a hard week at work, enjoying an alcohol-infused Saturday night may not seem like it could increase your risk of all-cause mortality. But cutting back, or even eliminating, the occasional binge drinking session can improve your health and reduce your risk of future negative health outcomes. However, for many people, this may be easier said than done. In fact, statistics show that more than 20 percent of Americans over age 12 endorsed binge drinking in the past month in a recent year.
If you’re thinking of cutting back on alcohol or other drugs, it can be difficult to know where to start. Fortunately, the recent findings of a systemic review on the benefits of exercise in reducing alcohol and drug intake are encouraging. In the review, researchers examined studies involving people undergoing formal treatment for alcohol or drug use. They found that in 75 percent of the studies reviewed, participants had a decrease in alcohol or drug use following physical activity. The most common physical activity intervention is 60 minutes of moderate physical exercise three times a week (most commonly, jogging).
The participants involved in the studies were limited to those in active treatment for substance-use disorder, but the broadly positive impacts of exercise can be applied outside of formal addiction treatment, as well. If you are motivated to curb your alcohol use in an effort to avoid negative future health outcomes, now you have even more reason to double down on a regular exercise routine.
How to Learn More About the Effects of Alcohol and Exercise
The findings of the above studies counter the aphorism that “everything is better in moderation.” While the data shows that exercising in moderation does appear to be a beneficial tool, drinking alcohol is likely not better in moderation. For the latest scientific reviews involving alcohol, exercise, and a host of other topics, go to Cochrane.org.
Research and materials for this article were compiled, written, and distributed on behalf of the National Public Health Information Coalition. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the various authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the National Public Health Information Coalition or its members.
 Association Between Daily Alcohol Intake and Risk of All-Cause Mortality. A Systematic Review and Meta-analyses. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2802963
 Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/reports/rpt35325/NSDUHFFRPDFWHTMLFiles2020/2020NSDUHFFR1PDFW102121.pdf
 Characteristics and impact of physical activity interventions during substance use disorder treatment excluding tobacco: A systematic review. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0283861