Should Doctors Recommend Drinking Alcohol to Patients for Good
Moderate drinking is associated with better health and longer life
than is either abstaining or abusing alcohol. That’s the consensus
of medical researchers based on overwhelming scientific evidence.
Well known medical authority Dean Edell, M.D., asserts that “you
would have to be living on another planet not to know that alcohol
-- in moderation -- is good for your health.” 1
Of course, not everyone should drink alcohol, including pregnant
women, those who have ever experienced difficulty controlling their
drinking, or anyone whose physician recommends abstinence.
Consuming alcohol in moderation reduces the risk of heart disease
dramatically. It also significantly reduces the risk of stroke and
other major causes of death. And evidence of the overall health
benefits of moderate drinking continues to grow.
Most Americans drink less than the optimum amount desirable for
maximum health benefits. Dr. Stanton Peele says that
many object to the idea that doctors should inform their patients
that moderate drinking may prolong life. They fear that such advice
will justify the excessive drinking some patients already engage
in, or they worry that encouragement from doctors will push people
who cannot handle alcohol to drink.
The view that people are so stupid or malleable that they will
become alcohol abusers because doctors tell them that moderate
drinking is good for them is demeaning and self-defeating. If
people can't regulate their own diets, drinking, and exercise,
then doctors should avoid giving patients any information
about their health behavior, no matter how potentially helpful.
Not only can people handle such information on lifestyle, it offers
the primary and best way to attack heart disease. Of course, doctors
may also prescribe medications. These medications rarely solve
underlying problems, however; and they often cause adverse side
effects that counterbalance their positive effects. Because they
are not a cure, courses of medication, once begun, are rarely
People are the best regulators of their own behaviors. Even
those who drink excessively often benefit when doctors provide
straightforward, accurate information. Clinical trials conducted
by the World Health Organization around the world showed that
so-called brief interventions, in which medical personnel advised
heavy drinkers to reduce their drinking, are the most
successful therapy for problem drinking.
But far more Americans drink less, not more, than would
be most healthful for them. To fail to inform these patients about
the benefits of moderate drinking is both counterproductive and
What is moderate drinking? The US government currently defines
moderation for a woman as consuming no more than one drink per day
and for men it is drinking no more than two drinks per day. A drink
- a 12 ounce can or bottle of beer,
- a five ounce glass of dinner way, or
- a one-and one-half ounce drink of 80 proof distilled spirits.
Many other countries define moderation at much higher levels of
consumption. For example, in the Netherlands moderation is about
three drinks per day for both men and women and in France it’s
about two and one-half drinks per day for women and over four drinks
per day for men. 4
Until recently, the US National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
defined moderation for men as consuming up to four drinks in a day.
People need to be aware of some important medical facts about drinking:
- The risk of dying in any given year is 25 percent lower for
those who consume moderate amounts of alcohol. 6
- Moderate drinking reduces the risk of stroke by about one-half.
- Moderate drinkers have a 54% lower chance of developing dementia
than abstainers. 8
- Moderate drinkers are over 30-40 percent less likely to develop
The benefits of drinking in moderation begin early in life 10
and they apply to beer, wine, and liquor or distilled spirits (gin,
vodka, whiskey, tequila, rum, bourbon, etc.)
In Great Britain health officials recommend moderate drinking.
11 Physicians need to do the same in the United States.
Nothing on this page constitutes medical
opinion or advice. For medical diagnosis, opinion, advice or treatment
consult a qualified physician.
- 1. Edell, D. Life,
Liberty, and the Pursuit of Healthiness. NY: HarperCollins,
- 2. Peele, Stanton. Should
physicians recommend alcohol to their patients? Priorities,
1996, 8(2), 24-28.
- 3. The American Dietetic
Association points out that the facts of alcohol beverage equivalence
"are emphasized by the federal government and numerous public
health organizations including Nation Institute of Alcohol Abuse
and Alcoholism, Departments of Transportation and Health and Human
Services, National Consumers League, National Council of Alcoholism
and Drug Dependence, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD)"
(American Dietetic Association, Nutrition Fact Sheet: Moderate
Consumption of Distilled Spirits and Other Beverage Alcohol in an
Adult Diet. Chicago, Illinois: American Dietetic Association,
2001, p.1). See also Alcohol Equivalence (https://www.alcoholproblemsandsolutions.org/alcohol-equivalence)
- 4. International Center
for Alcohol Policies (ICAP). International Drinking Guidelines.
(ICAP Reports #14). December 2003.
- 5. International Center
for Alcohol Policies (ICAP). International Drinking Guidelines.
(ICAP Reports #14). December 2003, p. 8 and current issue of National
Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Physicians’
Guide to Helping Patients with Alcohol Problems.
- 6. Alcohol has benefits,
but not or everyone. Long Beach Press-Telegraph, January
- 7. Sacco, R. L., Elkind,
M., Boden-Albala, B., Lin, I-F., Kargman, D. E., Hauser. W. A.,
Shea, S., & Paik, M. C. The Protective Effect of Moderate Alcohol
Consumption on Ischemic Stroke, Journal of the American Medical
Association, 1999, 281, 53-60.
- 8. Mulkamal, K.J., et
al. Prospective study of alcohol consumption and risk of dementia
in older adults. Journal of the American Medical Association,
2003 (March 19), 289, 1405-1413.
- 9. Carlsson, S., et
al. Alcohol consumption and the incidence of type 2 diabetes:
a 20-year follow-up of the Finnish Twin Cohort Study. Diabetes
Care, 2003, 26(10), 2785-2786.
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al. U-shaped relation for alcohol consumption and health in
early adulthood and implications for mortality. The Lancet,
1998, 352, 9131.
- 11. Dr. Eric Rimm of
Harvard School of Pubic Health, quoted by John Fauber, Experts reluctant
to endorse health benefits of alcohol, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel,
January 24, 2005.
- Camargo, C.A., et al. Prospective study of moderate alcohol
consumption and mortality in US male physicians. Archives of
Internal Medicine, 1997, 157, 79-85.
- Coate, D. Moderate drinking and coronary heart disease mortality:
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- Doll, R., and Peto, R. Mortality in relation to consumption of
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NY: HarperCollins, 2004.
- Edell, D. Eat, Drink and be Merry: America’s Doctor Tells
You Why the Health Experts are Wrong. NY: HarperCollins, 1999.
- Ellison, R. C. Does Moderate Alcohol Consumption Prolong Life?
New York: American Council on Science and Health, 1993
- Ford, G. The Science of Healthy Drinking. San Francisco,
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- Ford, G. The Benefits of Moderate Drinking: Alcohol, Health
and Society. San Francisco, CA: Wine Appreciation Guild, 1988.
- Ford, G. The French Paradox & Drinking for Health.
San Francisco, CA: Wine Appreciation Guild, 1993.
- Fox, B. To Your Health: the Healing Power of Alcohol.
Diane Publishing, 2000.
- Fuchs, C.S., et al. Alcohol consumption and mortality among
women. The New England Journal of Medicine, 1995, 332(19),
- Gilson, C. and Bennett, V. Alcohol and Women: Creating a Safer
Lifestyle. Irving, TX: Fusion Press, 2001.
- Hellerstedt, W. L., et al. The association between alcohol
intake and adiposity in the general population. American Journal
of Epidemiology, 1990, 132(4), 594-611.
- Hennekens, C.H.. Alcohol and Risk of coronary Events. In: National
on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol and the Cardiovascular
System. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human
- Kahn, H. S., et al. Stable behaviors associated with adults'
10-year change in body mass index and the likelihood of gain at
the waist. American Journal of Public Health, 1997, 87(5),
- Kowalski, R.E. The New 8-Week Cholesterol Cure. NY: HarperCollins,
- Liu, S., et al. A prospective study of alcohol intake and
change in body weight among US adults. American Journal of Clinical
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- Manson, J.E., et al. Prevention of Myocardial Infarction.
New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
- Peele, S., and Grant, M. Alcohol and Pleasure: A Health Perspective.
Philadelphia, PA: Brunner/Mazel, 1999.
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Sonoma, CA: Renaissance Publishing, 1992.
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- Stuttaford, T. To Your Good Health! The Wise Drinkers Guide.
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- Willett, W. C. with the assistance of others. Eat, Drink, and
be Healthy: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating.
New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001, p. 17. The alternative US
Department of Agriculture food pyramid was first developed before
much of our current nutritional information was available, reflects
the strong influence of agricultural producers, and is highly over-simplified.
The Harvard food Pyramid is free of all those shortcomings.