I Know Studies Say No Amount Of Alcohol Is Safe. But Do I Really Need To Stop Drinking?

Dr. Danielle Martin parses the latest study on alcohol’s effect on your health.

by
overly full red wine glass with wine spilling out

Photo, Roberto Caruso.

Q: I read a new study that said there’s no safe amount of alcohol to consume when it comes to your health. Do I really need to stop drinking entirely?

Saying there’s no safe amount of alcohol to consume is not the same as saying it’s never safe to consume alcohol. That may sound like splitting hairs, but it’s an important distinction because this study, like others before it, doesn’t provide sufficient evidence that the only safe thing to do is be abstinent.

Take the often-cited link between alcohol consumption and cancer, for example. A lot of these studies look at association as opposed to causation. It’s fine to say that people who drink more are more likely to be diagnosed with cancer, but do those same people also smoke more, have more risk factors or engage in other high-risk behaviours?

The point is: Saying that people who have high rates of alcohol consumption also have high rates of cancer doesn’t mean that alcohol causes cancer.
Why I Traded In My Wine For WeedWhy I Traded In My Wine For Weed
Other research suggests that light alcohol consumption among non-pregnant women may actually have
a protective effect. But is that because drinking a glass of wine every day is good for you or because people who drink one glass of wine a day also take better care of themselves in other ways?

This latest study, published in The Lancet, is a good reminder, though, that there are tremendous potential and actual harms that can come from heavy alcohol use, such as damage to organs and tissues. Alcohol is a problem substance when consumed in excess and by those with certain health conditions.

Some of that harm is gendered. A report by
 the Canadian Institute
for Health Information in May found that the rate of women dying from causes directly linked to alcohol is increasing significantly faster than in men. Young girls ages 10 to 19 are also being hospitalized at higher rates than boys, but men outpace women in this area at every other age. This suggests there may be approaches based on sex and gender analysis that would be more effective
at reducing alcohol-related harm.

We also know some people shouldn’t drink at all, including pregnant women, those battling an acute illness or chronic liver disease, and those with a history of addiction.

Other Canadians need
 to exercise common sense and know their limits. It becomes a very personal and individual decision. But making people feel as though having one drink will give them cancer is a completely counterproductive exercise.