Should doctors recommend drinking alcohol to their patients to improve their health and long life?
Moderate drinking is linked with better health and longer life. That’s comparing it to not drinking or drinking heavily. That’s the consensus of medical researchers. And that’s based on very strong medical evidence. In fact, abstaining from alcohol is a risk factor for poor health and earlier death.
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. Among others, that includes anyone whose doctor recommends abstinence.
Drinking alcohol in moderation reduces the risk of heart disease greatly. It also reduces the risk of stroke and other major causes of death. And evidence of the overall health benefits of moderate drinking continues to grow.
So should doctors recommend drinking alcohol to patients for good health and longer life?
Don’t Drink Enough
Most Americans drink less than needed for 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.
Dr. Peele continues.
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 discontinued.
World Health Organization
Dr. Peele argues this.
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 has conducted clinical trials around the world. They show that so-called brief interventions are the most successful therapy for problem drinking. In brief interventions, medical personnel advise heavy drinkers to reduce their 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 dishonest. 2
Should doctors recommend drinking alcohol to patients for their good health and long life? Has Dr. Peele convinced you?
What is moderate drinking? The US government defines moderation for a woman as consuming no more than one drink per day. For men it is drinking no more than two drinks per day. For women, it’s one drink per day.
Each standard drink has the same amount of pure alcohol. It’s six tenths of an ounce. So they’re all equal in terms of alcohol. A drink is a drink. Having two beers is the same as having two shots of whiskey. At least in terms of alcohol. They’re all the same to a breath tester.
Many other countries define moderation at much higher levels. They also have much lower minimum legal drinking ages. This reflects the long temperance history of the U.S.
That tradition continues. For example, today almost one in five U.S. adults favors making alcohol drinking illegal. That is, for everyone of any age. For any purpose. Or at any time. Not even Prohibition did that!
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 drink in moderation.
- Moderate drinking reduces the risk of stroke by about one-half.
- Those who drinker in moderation have over a 50% lower chance of having dementia than abstainers.
- Moderate drinkers are over 30-40 percent less likely to develop diabetes.
The benefits of drinking in moderation begin early in life and they apply to beer, wine, and spirits.
Health officials in many countries recommend moderate drinking. Physicians need to do the same in the US.
Should Doctors Recommend Drinking Alcohol?
- Alcohol and Health.
- Benefits of Moderate Drinking Result from Alcohol Itself.
- 14 Ways Drinking Alcohol Is Good for Health.
- Drinking and Women’s Health.
- How Much Alcohol Should I Drink for Health & Long Life?
- Drinking Alcohol Reduces Weight Gain.
- Beer is Better than Milk for Good Health & Weight: So are Wine & Spirits.
- Calories, Carbs, and Fats in Beverages.
- Edell, D. Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Healthiness, p.488.
- Peele, Stanton. Should physicians recommend alcohol to their patients? Priorities, 8(2), 24-28.