Public Health

The Health Risks of Not Drinking


Earlier today Radley Balko noted that "the map showing the places where people are most likely to drink alcohol looks a lot like the map showing the healthiest counties," while "the map showing the places were people were least likely to drink looks a lot like the map showing the least healthy counties." In the same vein, addiction psychologist Stanton Peele looks at America's Health Rankings and finds:

In all of the healthiest five states, a majority drinks. In all the unhealthiest states, a minority drinks. The United Health Foundation's health ranking of the states is subtitled, "A Call to Action for People & Their Communities." Should they call for more people to drink?

Since moderate drinking is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, a causal connection is not out of the question. It may also be that teetotaling correlates with income or other demographic variables that are independently related to health.

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  1. Call me a chicken little on this one.

    Serving Wench, another flagon of mead!

  2. Hey, kids. Stay healthy.

    Don’t not drink.

    And stay in school.

    That’s…one to grow on.

  3. Now, everyone knows that correlation does not equal causation. The unhealthiness in non-drinking counties probably has more to do with the giant sticks stuck up their asses than a lack of alcohol.

  4. Why is the hottest toy this Christmas a recalled Australian date-rape drug?

  5. Waaaaiiiiiiiit a minute.

    It seems that the healthy states do indeed correlate with drinking, but only two of the unhealthy states correlate with non-drinking. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m no teetotaler, but I’m a little more curious as to the sociopolitical aspects of the phenomenon.

  6. Shawn is 100% correct. I think teetotalers would just tend to be uptight, unhappy, wet blankets that (mercifully) maybe die a little earlier. The shorter the time they spend butting into everyone else’s lives the better.

  7. Closing the tag…

  8. I think teetotalers would just tend to be uptight, unhappy, wet blankets that (mercifully) maybe die a little earlier.

    Depends on the reason for their teetotaling. Someone with a history of substance abuse is a different case than “Jeebus or Mahmud or Sheeva tolds me to not to drink”

  9. I don’t think Shiva has ever asked anybody not to drink, in fact the chap encourages it.

  10. Red wines and dark beers are especially healthful to drink! Red wines cuz they contain resveritol. And studies have revealed healthy results from their consumption. And dark beers cuz their consumption has been correlated with lower circulatory disease rates. (It prevents heart attacks and strokes) This is probably due to the fact that dark beers have lots more anti-oxidants. Darker pigmented vegetables and fruits do as well. For example, there are lots more anti-oxidants in red and yellow onions than in white onions.

  11. SM – my bad, although you weren’t really talking about alcohol. I’d thought I’d read somewhere that in more religious parts of India, there were anti-alcohol laws, but I was unable to find any confirmation on teh Internets.

  12. The people compiling this did a nice job of cherrypicking the data. Number 6 on the healthiest list is Utah, which is the state with the lowest number of drinkers (and smokers, and …) due to the huge percentage of Mormons. Care to explain that anomaly?

    Oh, and Hawaii is number three in large part because it has lots of Japanese and other Asians who tend to be a lot healthier due to eating healthier.

    And states in the South that have terrible eating patterns are being smacked around on this list. Care to adjust the data for non-alcohol diet factors, smoking, etc.?

    I’ll bet if you adjusted this data for ethnicity, the numbers would be far more jumbled.

  13. Closing the tag…

    What does that mean? Sounds like site maintenance or something might be going on as we blog…

  14. What does that mean? Sounds like site maintenance or something might be going on as we blog…

    It means he was closing the “bold” tag that someone left open… yes, “Off Topic” I’m looking at you.

  15. Rick, that was me, actually. Off Topic left a bold tag open, so I closed it.

  16. Or it may be variation with no relationship at all. . .

  17. Thx, Sleazy Martini, didn’t see you there. Have a couple jalape?o olives on me…

  18. As an uptight, happy, dry-blanket teetotaler with no history of substance abuse who enjoys not butting into other people’s lives (except on this blog) and who likes to see his friends enjoy themselves, I hereby asseverate:


  19. Off topic but could be good for you:

    Diet Of Walnuts, Blueberries Improve Cognition; May Help Maintain Brain Function

  20. M,

    I’m a mere commenter here, but thanks! You da man/woman.

  21. The best part about alcohol is drinking it.

  22. …Are you the same M who did that fine New Wave tune, “Pop Music”?

    (Actually, I think that M was the name of the whole ensemble)

  23. Wow! I am so stoked to learn that you mess with future posts by forgetting to use ! If only Reason honored the tag…

  24. Damned, it sucked up my entities. Oh well, you get the point…

  25. Someone with a history of substance abuse…..

    My old friend Amphetamine Annie was a lot more fun when she could drink everybody here under the table.

  26. Got dam you Brandybuck…………..


  27. How come the tag didn’t close?

  28. who likes to see his friends enjoy themselves

    You da man/woman.

    Seem the t-shirt slogan is right that says “I drink to make other people more interesting.” 🙂

  29. There could also be some correlation from a societal expectation perspective. If a geographic area has a healthy moderation view of drinking, people could be less likely to abuse (see Europe), but if drinkers are judged in a geographic area, they are probably more likely to binge in their basements.

  30. And dark beers cuz their consumption has been correlated with lower circulatory disease rates. (It prevents heart attacks and strokes)

    Our family physician prescibed bock beer for Mom when she was nursing. This was in the ’50s. He was a very cool doctor. Great with kids, and even yanked my tonsils himself rather than farm in out.

  31. people could be less likely to abuse (see Europe)

    I see this mentioned a lot, but does anyone have any proof? Both from personal experience and from some numbers Ive seen, I think European 16-24 year olds abuse alcohol at least as much as Americans.

    I guess it may depend on what parts of Europe, however.

  32. Different parts of Europe are totally different. In Germany I went to a three day rock festival. There were thousands of people camping in a tent city next to the venue, armed with unlimited alcohol and stereos blasting heavy metal. In Australia that would be a recipe for a riot, but at this event I saw no problems whatsoever. I didn’t even see anyone yelling at each other. Same throughout Germany. When I went to a country concert in Norway, however, everyone got completely annihilated and a couple were apparently threatening to beat my head in in Norwegian (which they would have been incapable of doing due to barely being able to stand up). Estonia also has big problems with alcohol abuse.

    If you were designing a country to have low alcohol abuse problems, you’d want the national drink to be beer, not vodka or moonshine, and you’d want the society to value order. i.e. Germany. I also think it helps a lot if parents introduce their kids to alcohol early, by drinking a little wine with dinner as they do in France and Italy. This prevents drinking alcohol from being seen as an act of rebellion.

  33. M:

    who likes to see his friends enjoy themselves

    But of course. My bad.

  34. The irony of this story is that if the correlation had been the other way around, it would be USAToday front page news and blasted everywhere through the MSM and morning talk shows. I only read about in Reason….

    And to those of you who are arguing about the correlations true meaning and efficacy, you miss the point. Having actual scientific proof as opposed to mere correlations never stopped the anti-drinking crowd (note MADDs continued insistence that raising the drinking age is responsible for lower alcohol related traffic deaths).

  35. Public health is not about mortality rates, its about decadence. What is decadent is unhealthy, evidence nothwithstanding. Even though the new data is out, drinking and obesity are still going to be harmful according to the “scientific consensus” oracle.

  36. I was going to say that the low health states have less healthy outcomes because instead of drinking for relaxation they eat. But yesterday we learned that being overweight is not so bad…..

  37. I’m just waiting until 5PM to post this, and then I’m going to have a martini.

    For my health, of course.

  38. Drinking is not a problem. Getting drunk or drinking for the wrong reasons is.

  39. On the “Reason” website, someone basically says that non-drinkers are probably just miserable busyboddies … so good riddance!?!?


    Folks, I’ve got news for you. Even when a study is designed by actual experts in statistics, who actually try to identify and correct for all the factors that could skew results, the end result is at best educated guesswork.

    This “study” looks like junk, anecdotes notwithstanding. Yeah George Burns smoked a lot and lived past 100. Yeah, I have a relative who didn’t smoke or drink and who was skinny, whodied in his 40’s. Doesn’t prove anything.

  40. Heh, funny.

    Still, seems likely to be a cross-correlation rather than causative: the poorer states tend to more austere, and poorness correlates to poorer health.

    Full disclosure:I usually have one beer or one glass of wine a day.

  41. Ernie G. The first sign of alcoholism is drinking on a schedule… so drink up, why wait?

  42. Even more correlated than with drinking, the healthiest states are the wealthiest states, and the poorest states are the unhealthiest. (See e.g., WI, big drinkers, not wealthy not healthy; and Hawaii, wealthy, healthy, not big drinkers.) Alcohol is a spurious correlation here. These states drink more cappuccinos too, but it’s not the cappuccinos making them healthy.

  43. “I drink to make you interesting” – H.L. Mencken

  44. It appears that alcohol does have some protective effect on health. The effect is maximised at 7-14 drinks per week. Exceeding this limit quickly reverses the protection and it becomes harmful. It is a slippery slope and that is where one of the biggest dangers is. Here’s a link to a self-assessment tool in case anyone wants to know where he or she is at: Keep in mind, one of the signs of alcoholism is… denial (“I’m fine, don’t need to drink”, “Doing it just for fun”, “Can stop any time”, etc.). To your health!

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