The Hazards of Not Drinking


This morning Radley Balko noted a new study, reported in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, that not only confirms the health advantage drinkers have over teetotalers but finds that even heavy drinkers tend to live longer than abstainers. The study, which tracked 1,800 subjects for 20 years, beginning when they were between 55 and 65, is notable because it controlled for a long list of potential confounding variables, including socioeconomic status, past alcohol abuse, and pre-existing illness. "Even after adjusting for all covariates," the researchers report, "abstainers and heavy drinkers continued to show increased mortality risks of 51 and 45%, respectively, compared to moderate drinkers." In other words, mortality among teetotalers was higher than mortality among heavy drinkers—a striking result, given the well-established health risks associated with excessive alcohol consumption. Time's John Cloud and Slate's Brian Palmer discuss possible explanations for alcohol's health benefits, including its impact on HDL cholesterol, blood flow, stress, and social integration.

In July I discussed the perenially controversial treatment of alcohol's health benefits in the federal government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a new edition of which will be published soon. A 2006 Reason Foundation study suggested that drinking has financial benefits as well. In 2008 I noted Cloud's perceptive critique of "the all-or-nothing approach to alcohol."