Is there room for the occasional drink in your wellness routine, or is drinking dooming your health goals?
You workout regularly, eat well, and prioritize sleep. You also enjoy a weekend cocktail with friends or a daily glass of wine on the couch.
So does that occasional drink undo the benefits of your other good choices? Well, it depends.
More Americans are rethinking their relationship with booze. According to a Gallup poll, over the past two decades, the drinking rate has dropped 10 percent for people between ages 18 and 34. And about 40 percent of consumers in the U.S. embrace a sober-curious lifestyle, meaning they’re either interested in trying sobriety or are reexamining their relationship with alcohol. Research shows the driving factor behind the uptick in sober curiosity is protecting physical and mental well-being.
But maybe sobriety isn’t for you. Can you still drink occasionally and be healthy? Or do you have to choose between wellness and wine? Here’s what the research says.
What’s considered occasional drinking?
There isn’t a single definition of occasional drinking, but the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines “moderation” as two drinks daily for men and one for women.
What are the physical health effects of an occasional drink?
This is where it gets complicated. There are both health benefits and drawbacks to consuming alcohol. You’re probably most familiar with the negative effects of heavy drinking. But what about enjoying a few cocktails a week? Even in moderation, alcohol can cause weight gain. It’s also linked to an increased risk of breast cancer in women as well as other types of cancers, according to the National Cancer Institute. Depending on your family history, you could be prone to developing a dependency. Alcohol can also prematurely age your skin. It’s worth noting that many of these studies underscored that the amount of alcohol matters — even cutting back on drinking by a few drinks each week can be beneficial.
Read more: How Alcohol Affects Sleep
So, what about alcohol’s benefits? Studies show that light or moderate alcohol consumption may lower the risk of cardiovascular disease thanks to alcohol’s effect on raising the body’s “good” cholesterol. However, some organizations, like the Centers for Disease Control, dispute these studies, noting they don’t take into account genetic or lifestyle factors. In 2023, the World Health Organization published in a news release stating there is “no safe amount that does not affect health.”
Their reasoning points to the fact that alcohol is not only toxic, psychoactive, and dependence-inducing, it is also classified as a Group 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, alongside substances like asbestos, radiation, and tobacco. WHO also notes that in order to “identify a ‘safe’ level of alcohol consumption, valid scientific evidence would need to demonstrate that at and below a certain level, there is no risk of illness or injury associated with alcohol consumption.”
What are the mental health effects of moderate drinking?
Have you ever felt sluggish or even a little “blue” the morning after enjoying a couple drinks with friends? You can thank your tequila tonic for that. Alcohol is a depressant, so it will affect mood or thoughts. It can even create feelings of anxiety.
Can I drink and live a healthy lifestyle?
You’re the only person who can answer this question, and it largely depends on what you define as a “healthy” lifestyle and whether you think the benefits of enjoying the sporadic drink outweigh the risks.
While the occasional adult beverage does have health consequences, time with friends has its own benefits. Maintaining strong friendships is linked to reduced stress, lower heart-related risks, better immunity, and a more positive outlook on life. Of course, you don’t have to imbibe to spend time with your crew. You could just as easily order a mocktail, sip on a diet soda, or choose an activity that doesn’t involve alcohol, like hiking or spending time at a park. Ultimately, though, the choice is yours.
Read more: The Power of Hiking For Mental Health
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