The happy news: drinking is good for you

Stanton Peele, who studies and treats addiction, has published a fascinating summation of the scientific evidence on drinking and health (hat tip: Instapundit), and it cuts against the grain of much of what you will hear from most public health spokesmen. Drinking alcohol, up to two drinks a day for women and four for men (sorry, ladies, that’s what the data shows!), decreases mortality. Drink up and live longer.

The U.S. public health establishment buries overwhelming evidence that abstinence is a cause of heart disease and early death. People deserve to know that alcohol gives most of us a higher life expectancy—even if consumed above recommended limits. (snip)

…the evidence that abstinence from alcohol is a cause of heart disease and early death is irrefutable—yet this is almost unmentionable in the United States. Even as health bodies like the CDC and Dietary Guidelines for Americans (prepared by Health and Human Services) now recognize the decisive benefits from moderate drinking, each such announcement is met by an onslaught of opposition and criticism, and is always at risk of being reversed.

Noting that even drinking at non-pathological levels above recommended moderate limits gives you a better chance of a longer life than abstaining draws louder protests still. Yet that’s exactly what the evidence tells us.

Driven by the cultural residue of Temperance, most Americans still view drinking as unhealthy; many call alcohol toxic. Yet, despite drinking far less than many European nations, Americans have significantly worse health outcomes than heavier-drinking countries. (For example, despite being heavily out-drunk by the English, we have almost exactly twice their levels of diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.)

This graphic from The New England Journal of Medicine lays out the basic facts:

There are a few caveats. True binge drinking -- on the order of 12 drinks in a session -- is unhealthy. That seems pretty obvious, just given the possibility of stumbling and falling, not to mention the hazards of getting behind the wheel. Steele notes: “drinking 10 drinks Friday and Saturday nights does not convey the benefits of two or three drinks daily, even though your weekly totals would be the same.” But I have seen “binge drinking” defined as four or so drinks, which is ridiculous for anyone of average or great body mass.

And there are some people who are particularly vulnerable to harm:

…these outcome data do not apply to women with the “breast-cancer gene” mutations (BRCA 1 or 2) or a first-degree (mother, sister) relation who has had breast cancer, for whom alcohol consumption is far riskier.

Steele does not mention alcoholism, which is interesting coming from an addiction specialist. I strongly suspect he has complicated views on the subject that would distract from his underlying message. I am old enough and have lived enough life to enjoy friendships with people who credit Alcoholics Anonymous with saving their lives. So I am cautious toward attempts to debunk the very notion that alcoholism is not, as is often claimed, a “disease.” I just don’t know. I do know that people I care about have come close to ruining their lives with compulsive drinking, and that they have found the power to stop through a 12 step program. God bless ‘em.

I should disclose that I have a financial interest in the consumption of alcohol, as I am a partner in a California winery. I should also disclose that I love to drink good wine.

In the last 10 years or so, I have done a lot of reading on Prohibition, and have concluded that the dimensions of the disaster it inflicted on our country are enormous. One of the great largely unknown stories is that Prohibition was a progressive project, driven by the same desire to perfect society and thereby eliminate the downsides of human nature that underlie all of progressivism’s fallacies.  Another little-known aspect of Prohibition is that the income tax was created (and a constitutional amendment passed to enable same) as part of the deal which brought us Prohibition. The income tax was created to replace rthe alcohol taxes which had provided a siubstantial share of federal revenue. Talk about a Devil’s Bargain!