Alcohol, Tradition, and Health: How are They Connected?

The moderate drinking of alcohol is linked with better health and longer life. That’s compared to either not drinking heavy drinking. Yet the strong temperance tradition in the US leads many people to resist this medical fact. This reflects how alcohol, tradition, and health are closely related.

Alcohol, Tradition and Health

alcohol, tradition, and healthSante. Skoal. To your health. It’s how we toast each other with “the water of life.” Or when we take a “little wine for the stomach’s sake.” The Russians say it with a  proverb. It’s “Drink a glass of schnapps after your soup and you steal a ruble from the doctor.”

There’s a long folk tradition in societies that use alcohol with success. It says that alcohol bring pleasure to a gathering. It lifts our spirits. And it says alcohol can also improve our health.

Moderate Drinkers

That belief is more than folk wisdom. The medical fact is clear. Again, moderate drinking is linked to better health and longer life. That’s compared to not or drinking heavily. For example, we now know the following.alcohol, tradition, and health

    • Moderate drinkers tend to enjoy better health.  A nation-wide survey in the U.S. found that daily moderate drinkers had many fewer acute hospitalizations. And a study in Canada found that daily such drinkers had 15% less disability than the general population.
    • Moderate drinkers tend to live longer.  One study shows that moderate drinkers have a 21% to 28% lower risk of death from all causes than abstainers. Another study, of 12,000 people, found that such drinkers had the lowest risk of death from all causes during the 13 year study
    • Moderate drinkers are less likely to suffer heart attacks.  A researcher reviewed the studies on moderate drinking and heart attacks. He found that having one or two drinks a day was highly beneficial. It greatly reduces “the chances of suffering cardiac death.” In fact, he concluded that “We don’t have any drugs that are as good as alcohol.”
    • Moderate drinkers suffer fewer of a great many other diseases and health problems. These include stroke, high blood pressure, prostate cancer, ED, Alzheimer’s disease, and many more. Even the common cold. For more, see Alcohol and Health.

Impact of Temperance Tradition

Despite the evidence, a great many people still don’t understand the health benefits of moderate drinking. In fact, one poll by ABC News found that more than half of the public doesn’t see the connection. And more than a third think that moderate drinking is actually bad for a person’s health.

We can attribute that misunderstanding, in part, to another cultural tradition in the US. That’s the long temperance tradition in the country. It demonizes alcohol and drinking. Especially distilled spirits (liquor).

alcohol, tradition, and healthWe see that tradition all around. For instance, in the reluctance of many people to see the health benefits of moderate drinking. This even includes many government officials. And many who do acknowledge the benefits want to attribute them to something other than alcohol. Or they want to limit the benefits to one kind of beverage. For instance, only to red wine. (See The Red Wine Health Myth.)

The truth is that the good comes largely from the alcohol itself. And they come from using it in moderation. The media attention a few years ago to the so-called “French Paradox” led to a great misperception. That was that the health benefits are limited to red wine. That simply isn’t true. You get equivalent benefits from the moderate consumption of beer, white wine, or spirits.

Is there a way for us to overcome our confusion and ambivalence about alcohol in the US? I think so. A good place to start is by paying attention to cultures outside our own. Those that widely use alcohol with few problems. They include Italian, Greek, Spanish, Portuguese, and Jews. We can benefit a great deal by learning from the experience of these successful groups.

Cultural Keys: Alcohol, Tradition, and Health

There are three keys to the successful use of alcohol in these groups.

    1. Viewing alcohol as a neutral substance. It’s neither good nor bad. What’s important is how it’s used.
    2. Providing two acceptable options for alcohol use. One is abstinence. The other is moderation. But successful societies never permit abuse.
    3. Learning about drinking from an early age at home.

In short, to enjoy the health benefits of moderate drinking, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. All we have to do is open our eyes to see what works. And then to have the courage to reject what doesn’t work.

  Books & Videos: Alcohol, Tradition, and Health
    • This sit doesn’t give advice. Thus it gives none about drinking alcohol, tradition, and health.