Health is complicated.
Every human being is an impossibly complicated petri dish of variables that all work together to impact our lives.
And, viewed in isolation, the advice is pretty simple. Eat more veggies, eat less cake. Smoke less. Exercise more. Drink less. Sleep more. Stress less. Play more.
But looking at the things that impact our health in isolation doesn’t tell the complete story.
Let’s talk alcohol.
The official World Health Organisation advice on alcohol is pretty compelling. Some key facts from the WHO:
- Worldwide, 3 million deaths every year result from harmful use of alcohol.
- The harmful use of alcohol is a causal factor in more than 200 disease and injury conditions.
- Overall 5.1 % of the global burden of disease and injury is attributable to alcohol.
- Alcohol consumption causes death and disability relatively early in life.
- There is a causal relationship between harmful use of alcohol and a range of mental and behavioural disorders, other noncommunicable conditions as well as injuries.
- Beyond health consequences, the harmful use of alcohol brings significant social and economic losses to individuals and society at large.
Now is a good point for a quick disclaimer. All else being equal, the research is pretty unanimous that alcohol has a negative effect on health. But the key phrase here in ‘all else being equal’.
As we’ve said, the human body is a complicated machine. Not to mention all the psycho-social factors that also contribute to health.
If you drink less, and change nothing else, you’ll be healthier. But human behaviour doesn’t exist in a vacuum. For people with responsible drinking habits, a couple of beers with mates, or a glass of red on your weekly date night, may actually have a positive effect.
Not because of the alcohol you’re sipping on, but because of who you’re sipping it WITH.
As reported by Pathways Health:
“Harvard Women’s Health Watch released a study revealing that strong social connections can improve health and increase longevity. Friendships are just as important to overall quality of life as choosing not to smoke, eating healthy foods and getting enough sleep every night. Researchers found that people who had satisfying relationships with others were happier, better adjusted, had fewer health problems and indeed lived longer.
Let’s circle back a bit re-read that last point from the WHO.
“…the harmful use of alcohol brings significant social and economic losses to individuals and society at large.”
And of course this is true. Alcohol consumption can often be taken to a pathological level.
According to alcoholrehabguide.org, some of the most common symptoms of alcohol abuse are:
- Experiencing temporary blackouts or short-term memory loss.
- Exhibiting signs of irritability and extreme mood swings.
- Making excuses for drinking such as to relax, deal with stress or feel normal.
- Choosing drinking over other responsibilities and obligations.
- Becoming isolated and distant from friends and family members.
- Drinking alone or in secrecy.
- Feeling hungover when not drinking.
- Changing appearance and group of acquaintances you hang out with.
These problems are absolutely insidious. They can destroy lives.
If you’re having a couple of drinks around a big banquet table once a week, sharing good food, good conversation, and good laughs with the people you love… maybe we can make the argument that there are certain situations where a few drinks can actually help you live a longer, happier life. Of course, if you need alcohol for these social connections to be strong and meaningful, it’s a sign that you’re dependant. And dependancy is rarely healthy.
Living the good life might actually let you have your cake, and eat it too… in moderation.
If you think you may have a drinking problem, and live in Australia, you can contact the Alcohol Drug Information Service in your state or territory for free 24-hour counselling:
- ACT: (02) 6207 9977
- NSW: 1800 422 599 (Regional), (02) 9361 8000 (Metropolitan)
- NT: 1800 131 350
- Qld: 1800 177 833 (Regional), (07) 3837 5889 (Metropolitan)
- SA: 1300 131 340
- Tas: 1800 811 994
- Vic: 1800 888 236
- WA: 1800 198 024 (Regional), (08) 9442 5000 (Metropolitan)