Alcohol Abstaining is Dangerous to Health and Longevity

Dr. Stanton Peele points out a simple fact. It’s that alcohol abstaining is dangerous to health and longevity. Abstainers tend to have poorer health than moderate drinkers. They also tend to die sooner. In fact, teetotaling is a risk factor for poor health and earlier death. Perhaps, he suggests, health agencies should warn the public about abstaining from alcohol.

A New York Times article revealed widening gaps in life expectancy according to income, race, sex, education and geography. All of the demographics associated with declining life expectancy gains are also associated with abstinence from alcohol.

Researchers “found that life expectancy actually declined in a substantial number of counties.” Worst off are poor Southern women, who are the Americans least likely to drink. They can’t match the continued health gains among better-off men and women in New England states. These the Americans most likely to drink.

National Survey on Drug Use and Health

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health collects demographic data. Of those 18 and older, men (62%), whites (60%), and college grads (67%!) are most likely to drink. Geographically, most likely to drink are New Englanders (64%) and urbanites (58%).

abstaining is dangerous

At the opposite end of the spectrum, women (48%), African Americans (45%), and those without a high school diploma (36%!). Also those residing in East South Central (42%) and rural regions (48%) are least likely to drink.

United Health Foundation

Let’s review the United Health Foundation’s state-by-state compilation, America’s Health Rankings. Four of the five healthiest states are among the leaders in percentage of drinkers. Starting with the healthiest, they are the following. Vermont (64%), Minnesota (#2 in health, 60% drinkers), New Hampshire (#4, 64%), and Connecticut (#5, 66%).

Likewise, four of the five least healthy states are at the low end of the imbibing rankings. They are Mississippi (#50, 38%), Arkansas (#48, 40%), Oklahoma (#47, 41%), and Tennessee (#46, 33%). In all of the healthiest five states, a majority drinks. In all the unhealthiest states, a minority does. The average percentage of drinkers in the healthiest states is 61 percent, the average in the least healthy, 40 percent.

Moderate Drinkers Live Longer

abstaining is dangerous

Epidemiologists have long known that regular moderate drinkers live longer than abstainers. Virtually all accept that alcohol itself (all forms of beverage alcohol) prolongs life. A handful of contrarians argue that it is not alcohol per se that makes people live longer. That it is the fact that drinkers eat better, exercise, control their weight, and don’t smoke. They say that accounts for their longer lives. But even this minority view is that studious drinkers are the healthiest Americans overall.

The ratings for percentages of drinkers by states comes from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. That’s the BRFSS. I’m confused – it seems as though drinking is the risk factor they are tracking. But this runs counter to the data. They show that a higher prevalence of drinkers in a state predicts greater health and longevity in the state.

People who follow warnings that alcohol is a dangerous substance to avoid actually suffer the poorest health outcomes. Shouldn’t public health agencies be warning about abstinence instead?

It just shows – you can’t always swallow what you are told.

Posted by permission of the author from his Addiction in Society post at And also from the Stanton Peele Addiction Website.

Resources: Alcohol Abstaining is Dangerous to Health

Web Pages


Scientific Articles