There’s probably been more misinformation distributed over the years about alcohol than any other substance that humans consume. Even the sugar, salt, coffee, and cholesterol controversies of the past generation are dwarfed by media coverage about the pros and cons of alcohol consumption.
For people who are not addicted to the stuff, beer, wine and hard liquor are a way of life. And aside from the few who abstain for religious or health reasons, people love their drinks, social visits to the local bar and all the celebration that surrounds the substance known as alcohol. But how safe is it? Here are some of the central facts, and busted-myths, about alcohol:
- Many people do not know whether they are at risk for developing alcohol addiction until it is too late. Family history is unreliable, and there are no tests for “potential alcoholism,” so virtually everyone who begins drinking is rolling the dice to some extent.
- The Centers for Disease Control guidelines note that moderate drinking is usually not a problem for people who are otherwise healthy. What is a problem is the fact that almost no one knows what the CDC definition of “moderate” is. For women, “one drink per day,” and for men “two drinks per day” is the definition. A “drink” is 12 ounces of beer, 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor, or 8 ounces of wine. After age 65, the men revert to the “one drink per day” level as well.
- The CDC points out that many studies have shown moderate alcohol consumption can have positive effects on brain health, longevity, gall stones, diabetes, and several types of heart ailments. All those benefits, however, are attainable through proper diet and exercise, without the addition of alcohol to the mix.
- The bad news is more extreme, as 38 million Americans drink to excess, in many cases drinking themselves to early death through disease, accidents and overdoses. In fact, alcohol consumption leads directly to 88,000 deaths in the U.S. each year (most of those are in automobile accidents) while a full third of all violent criminal complaints involve people who have abused alcohol. Clearly, there is a major problem with excess drinking.
- As for non-excess, or “moderate” drinking, new research shows that alcohol is not good for the skin because it causes rapid dehydration. And even moderate drinkers are putting the liver at risk because the organ has to work overtime to cleanse the blood after just one or two drinks.
- Alcohol contains what some call “hidden calories.” While a typical can of beer has just 150 calories, the reduced inhibition caused by alcohol routinely leads people to eat junk foods they might otherwise avoid.
- Because of the unique way alcohol affects thinking, even light and moderate drinkers oftentimes make very bad life decisions while under the influence of a single drink. Impaired driving is the most obvious culprit in this case, but “buzzed” people do all sorts of dumb and harmful things while beer or wine or liquor is coursing its way through the bloodstream.
Sobering statistics: About one-third of all people will become alcohol addicts sometime in their adult lives, yet only about one-quarter of those problem drinkers will ever seek help, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
For moderate drinkers who aren’t apt to become addicted, alcohol offers few benefits and many disadvantages.