Drink in Moderation: Better for Health Than Abstaining

Many groups equate alcohol with illegal drugs. But this may actually be counter productive. It can strengthen destructive drinking patterns. Here, Profs. David J. Hanson and Ruth C. Engs point out that it’s better to drink in moderation than to abstain.


better to drink in moderationThe statement that it’s better to drink moderately than to abstain will shock some people. It’s “politically incorrect.” So it’s unspoken. But it’s widely known by medical researchers. Yet scholars who dare to express it publicly risk being stigmatized. They risk losing their research funding. Or being banished to academic Siberia. Others wonder why anyone would even mention the benefits of moderate drinking.

We all know that thousands of lives are lost each year from drunk driving. Millions of dollars are spent on health care, treatment and criminal prosecution. This is a result of alcohol abuse. And drinking too much increases the risks of many illnesses.

But the link of moderate drinking with health and long life is rarely mentioned. And it’s never mentioned at all in federally sponsored alcohol education. In fact, there focus on the negative effects of abuse.

Drink in Moderation

Drink in Moderation is Key

For most substances there are appropriated doses for optimal health. That includes minerals, vitamins, and meds. It’s also true with alcohol. Too much can result in toxic effects, illness, or even death.

Food addicts often suffer severe health problems and premature deaths. Compulsive dieters can also die. Compulsive exercisers may harm their health. Yet rarely are we warned to avoid eating, dieting, or exercising.

Yet the vast majority of adults eat, exercise and drink alcohol in a moderate, health promoting way. Only a small minority are abusers. There are many articles on how to eat, diet, or exercise in a balanced way. On the other hand, there’s little information about moderate or healthful drinking.

Of course people who are allergic to aspirin and certain foods should not consume them. Likewise, people who are alcoholic, are taking certain meds, or whose doctors tell them to abstain should do so.

Avoiding Problems

We need to promoting the moderate use of alcohol. And we need discourage its abuse. For instance, Jewish and Italian American children typically learn to drink in moderation at home. They have the good example of their parents as role models. While most Jews and Italian Americans drink, few abuse alcohol.

But other groups believe that alcohol isn’t acceptable for religious or other reasons. They prohibit its use. Yet members of such groups are at high risk for problem drinking if they choose to drink. That’s because they have not learned how to drink properly.

Abstinence Background

Children from abstinence backgrounds tend to equate any drinking with abuse and problems. Those from such backgrounds who decide to drink lack knowledge about moderate drinking. Thus, the barrage of negative messages about drinking can actually be counter productive.

Alcohol in some form has been a pleasant part of life in most cultures throughout human history. And most cultures have viewed alcohol as a natural and normal part of life. As a result, they have generally had few problems from abuse.

We are currently in the midst of a modern temperance movement. This is why it is not acceptable even to discuss moderate drinking for adults. But this does nothing to prevent problem drinking. And it does nothing to promote healthful drinking.

We shouldn’t focus only on the negative effects of alcohol abuse. Instead, we need to promote objective information about moderate drinking. And we need to encourage adults who choose to drink to do so in a healthful manner.


  The Authors
    • Dr. David Hanson, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the State University of New York at Potsdam. He is author of over 300 publications and papers on alcohol. They include Preventing Alcohol Abuse and Alcohol Education. Both he and Dr. Engs believe it’s much better to drink in moderation, unless contra-indicated.
    • Dr. Ruth Engs, R.N., Ed.D., is Professor Emeritus of Applied Health Science at Indiana University. Dr. Engs is a leading authority on alcohol use and abuse among both college students and women. She has authored over a half-dozen books. Also dozens of book chapters, research articles and scholarly papers on alcohol and alcohol problems.