Moderate drinkers who quit may be able to achieve bigger improvements in well-being than the rest of us, a new study from the University of Hong Kong suggests.
In moderation, alcohol consumption has been linked to improved quality of life and a lower risk of health problems like heart disease and certain cancers in some previous research, leading doctors to advise some patients to imbibe occasionally as part of a healthy diet.
But results have been mixed, and research to date hasn’t offered a clear picture of whether moderate drinking - up to 17 drinks a week for men and 7 for women - is more harmful or helpful when it comes to physical and mental health.
About the study
Researchers examined data on 10,386 adults in Hong Kong who were non-drinkers or moderate drinkers. Participants were 49 years old on average when they joined the study; 64% of men and 88% of women were non-drinkers.
Researchers followed half of the participants for at least 2.3 years. During the study, about 40% of the male drinkers and 62% of the female drinkers quit drinking.
Women who stopped drinking during the study had bigger gains in well-being than women who were non-drinkers at the start. Men who had the biggest gains in well-being were former drinkers when they joined the study.
It is possible that alcohol cessation may reduce stressful life events, such as conflict within family, difficulties in employment and legal troubles, resulting in improved mental well-being, the lead researcher said. It’s also possible that improved mental well-being may result from the psychological benefits of `giving up’ than an effect of alcohol cessation per se.
To verify the link between cessation and wellbeing, researchers also looked at data from a nationally representative survey of 31,079 American adults.
For women who were moderate drinkers, quitting was associated with favorable changes in well-being in both Hong Kong and the U.S.
The study wasn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove whether or how stopping drinking might directly improve health. Another drawback is the potential for people to stop drinking or be lifelong abstainers because of health issues that make them sicker or less content than people who do drink.
While one or two drinks a week carries very little risk, there are other things people should try if their goal is to improve well-being and quality of life. These include improving diet and exercise habits, reducing stress, getting more sleep, and maintaining positive relationships.
Source: CMAJ, online July 8, 2019.
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