Despite the health benefits frequently ascribed to moderate consumption of red wine, drinking has at best mixed benefits. For one thing, the keyword there is moderate, and not everybody agrees on what moderate consumption is.
According to a World Health Organization report, each citizen of the United States, ages 15 and older, drinks on average 6 ounces of alcoholic beverages—everything from beer, wine, vodka and other distilled beverages to sake, mead and hard cider—per week. That sounds pretty moderate, but of course some people don’t drink at all, and others drink more—a lot more.
A 2012 Gallup poll found that two-thirds of Americans who drink said they had about four drinks a week, with beer the most popular type of drink. That could mean up to 48 ounces (four cans) per week. One-eighth said they have eight drinks a week. That’s more concerning, especially since a fifth (22 percent) felt that “they sometimes drink too much.”
And an analysis of the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions found that a similar percentage of people (23 percent) who drink will become dependent upon it eventually.
Alcohol is usually ranked among the top five addictive substances, often second behind heroin. A 2010 study in The Lancet ranked alcohol the most harmful drug in Britain, based on its harm to society as well as to individuals.
If you need to drink for stress reduction, to get up the nerve to talk to people, to get to sleep, you may have a problem. If you can’t stop drinking on your own, it might be time to seek out alcohol addiction treatment, whether in-patient or outpatient, 12-step group in a church basement or comprehensive care at a luxury rehab.
Of course, the best way to stop that slide towards dependence is to stop or moderate your alcohol consumption before you become dependent. If you do, you may discover some unexpected benefits of not drinking alcohol:
- Better sleep. Alcohol may knock you out quickly, but being unconscious isn’t the same thing as healthy sleep. Alcohol can inhibit rapid eye movement (REM), the stage of sleep in which we dream. Depriving people of REM sleep is a technique used in torture, and has detrimental effects over time.
- Weight loss. Alcohol has a lot of calories. A glass of red or white wine has almost as many calories as a soft drink. If you go for festive mixed drinks such as pina coladas, it’s many times worse. Cutting down or out the drinks can help you drop a few pounds. Just don’t replace them with a lot of sweetened, flavored coffee drinks!
- Better appearance. With the exception of red wine, alcohol is a diuretic—that is, it makes you urinate more often—that prevents your body from absorbing as much water as it needs to keep your skin hydrated and complexion looking healthy. Caffeine also is a diuretic, but it doesn’t seem to have the same dehydration problems.
- More money. If you drink often at bars and restaurants, or buy a lot of finer wines, spirits and craft beers, your incipient dependence has a damaging effect on your wallet as well as your health. Not to mention that showing up drunk or hungover at your job might have a negative effect of your prospects for long-term employment.
- Improved quality of life. If you stop drinking, you may find that you have more energy, better focus, and more time to do things now that your brain is no longer becoming pickled. Now that you’re no longer depressed all the time, your relationships with others (and your sex life) may improve, too. Even your eyesight might even seem better (though maybe that’s because the beer goggles are off).
No two people react to alcohol the same way exactly. For some people, half-a-glass of wine is too much. Others can handle several drinks a night, a couple of nights a week. Know your body, and know your limits. And if you think you have a problem, you probably do.