Alcohol is one of the most widely consumed substances in the United States.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has found that nearly 70 percent of individuals over the age of 18 have had at least one alcoholic beverage within the last year, with a reported 56 percent having consumed alcohol within the past month. It is well known that overconsumption of alcohol has detrimental effects on physical and mental health; however, many people are also aware of emerging studies that suggest moderate alcohol consumption is beneficial to overall health. With multiple conflicting studies surrounding the use of alcohol, it is important to understand the risks associated with alcohol consumption, as well as the perceived benefits.
The NIAAA’s definition of a “standard” alcoholic drink varies depending on the alcohol content. For example, a standard glass of wine is categorized as 5 ounces, while beer is 12 ounces.
Perceived Health Benefits of Alcohol Consumption
Several studies have been published detailing the alleged benefits of alcohol consumption. One such study is one published by Medical News Today, in which the findings suggest that alcohol consumption was actually good for your heart. In this study, researchers suggested that those who consume up to seven alcoholic drinks a week could better protect themselves against heart failure. The study, which involved nearly 15,000 participants, found that men who consumed up to seven drinks a week reduced their risk of heart failure by 20 percent, and women reduced their risk by 16 percent. Another study, published by the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, MA, worked with more than 100 prospective studies that suggest moderate alcohol consumption can protect against a variety of cardiovascular conditions including stroke, heart attack, and heart disease.
Other studies suggest that moderate alcohol consumption can lower an individual’s risk of diabetes. While numerous studies show that heavy drinkers and binge drinkers are at an increased risk of diabetes, a 2005 study published in Diabetes Care found that participants who consumed moderate amounts of alcohol were 30 percent less likely than heavy drinkers to develop type-2 diabetes. An additional study conducted in 2010 further supported these findings.
Many individuals are also are aware of the implications alcohol consumption can have on memory; however, a 2014 study published in The Journal of Nutrition found that moderate alcohol consumption improved memory and thinking skills in participants, particularly women ages 70 and older. A later October 2014 study further supported this claim by suggesting that older individuals who engaged in moderate drinking experienced a boost in nerve growth in the hippocampus – the part of the brain that plays a significant role in memory.
The Truth about Alcohol Consumption
While several studies support findings that suggest moderate alcohol consumption is beneficial, many doctors and researchers do not believe the findings provide enough evidence to suggest individuals should drink moderate amounts of alcohol. Many of these benefits can be easily gained through diet and exercise without any of the risks associated with alcohol consumption. Furthermore, individuals who struggle with alcohol abuse or addiction should not let the findings of these studies influence their consumption behaviors. The adverse effects of heavy or habitual alcohol consumption outweigh any small benefits that might be gained from moderate use.
Alcohol is far better known for the dangerous consequences associated with use. Alcohol is known to cause heart problems, liver disease, and cancer. In addition, nearly 88,000 deaths in the United States every year are alcohol-related. Alcohol is known to cause a variety of adverse effects in users. These effects vary in their severity based on familial history of abuse, biological factors, environmental factors, and medical history, and can lead to life-long complications and health issues.
Alcohol consumption can cause a number of side effects including:
- Erratic behavior
- Violent behavior
- Lack of interest in friends or family
- Decreased involvement in other activities
- Inability to control drinking
It can cause a number of short-term and long-term effects as well, including:
- Slurred speech
- Impaired judgment
- Memory loss
- Brain damage
- Heart disease
- Liver disease
Due to the way alcohol consumption is glorified in pop culture and in collegiate atmospheres, it is easy for individuals to quickly succumb to the negative effects of alcohol abuse. Drinking too much alcohol can lead to alcohol poisoning, coma, or death. Using alcohol for “positive health benefits” can often put individuals into dangerous patterns of use that can escalate into dependency. The risk is not worth the reward, especially since these benefits are often achievable through healthy activities such as diet and exercise.