A new study from the University of Hong Kong, however, says that stopping drinking alcohol completely can have great effects on our mental well-being – and this effect is more profound in women.
The study comes as a surprise, as for years, it’s been commonly thought that a glass of wine with dinner is good – and good for your heart, to boot – and that moderate drinking is fine – as long as you don’t overdo it.
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Past research on alcohol has been conflicted
But research on alcohol has historically been conflicted. Some research has suggested that coffee and alcohol is the secret to a long life. Earlier this year, a study published in the Lancet suggested that even moderate drinking could increase cardiovascular risk. Last year, a study in the PLOS Medicine indicated that moderate drinkers were likely to outlive teetotalers. And that’s only a sampling of studies on alcohol out there.
To make things even more confusing, there’s the current “sober curious” movement, a mostly booze-free lifestyle/health movement not associated in any way with Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s made up of people who are sometimes, mostly giving up alcohol because of the mental clarity and health benefits it gives them – but they’re not against having a few glasses of wine here and there, either. There are even booze-free bars and the requisite crop of sober-curious lifestyle influencers.
This new research is enticing – improved mental well-being and all you have to do is swear off the firewater completely? A hard habit to break, but if you’re a woman, in particular, it may be worth it for the benefits.
Here’s how the researchers came to their conclusion.
Analyzed data from 10,386 participants mostly middle-aged adults from a past study at Hong Kong who were non-drinkers or moderate drinkers between 2009-2013, they focused on the participants were either nondrinkers or moderate drinkers. Of the sample, 64% of the men were nondrinkers, and 88% of the women abstained completely
They examined the link between drinking patterns and mental well-being in two phases, then compared that data with the participants in the U.S. National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions – a separate group of 31,079 people.
The researchers saw that people who had never drunk alcohol had the greatest baseline of mental well-being. They also observed that people who had quit alcohol – especially women – experienced the highest improvement in mental health – for both the Hong Kong and US groups. (The people in the group who drank moderately didn’t see any boost in physical or mental well-being.)
For mental well-being, researchers recommend a teetotaling lifestyle
The researchers don’t recommend alcohol as part of any diet – not with your wine, not with your brunch, not with your baseball game. The actually recommend quitting.
“Ouf findings suggest caution in recommendations that moderate drinking could improve health-related quality of life,” said lead author Dr. Michael Ni of the University of Hong Kong School of Public Health, in a release. “Instead, quitting drinking may be associated with a more favorable change in mental well-being, approaching the level of lifetime abstainers.”
If you think that booze doesn’t affect you, it may more than you think. Another recent study in the Lancet reported that global alcohol consumption has gone up a staggering amount in the last 30 years.