Excessive drinking is responsible for 88,000 deaths in the United States each year, including 1 in 10 deaths among adults aged 20-64, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 from the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.
The dietary guidelines also showed that in 2006, the estimated economic cost to the United States related to excessive drinking was $224 billion. The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion found that binge drinking accounts for over half of the deaths due to excessive drinking and three-fourths of the economic costs. However, this does not have to be the case.
“Education and knowledge are power,” Stephanie May, the registered dietitian and nutritionist at Stony Brook University’s Campus Dining Services, said in an email. “Many young adults do not fully comprehend the impact their actions have on their bodies.”
Moderate alcohol consumption is defined as up to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020. The same guidelines define high-risk drinking as the consumption of four or more drinks per day or eight or more drinks per week for women and five or more drinks per day or 15 or more drinks per week for men.
The measurement of a “drink of alcohol” is defined as containing 14 grams of pure alcohol. Usually this means 12 fluid ounces of 5 percent alcohol beer, five fluid ounces of 12 percent alcohol wine, and 1.5 fluid ounces of 40 percent alcohol (80 proof) “distilled spirits.” A bottle of light beer (12 fluid ounces of 4.2 percent alcohol) would count as four-fifths of a drink of alcohol, according to this definition.
Although scientists know more about alcohol than ever, some people still believe in age-old myths, including the idea that drinking a glass of wine with dinner will help you live longer.
On March 22, the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs published a meta-analysis refuting previous studies that examined the benefits of alcohol. The meta-analysis stated that “a skeptical position is warranted in relation to the evidence that low-volume consumption is associated with net health benefits.”
While a study can give people a picture of the scientific phenomenon, a meta-analysis offers many pictures that can be strung together for an even better understanding of the situation.
The analysis looked at 87 studies that researched the correlation between moderate alcohol consumption and reduced mortality risk.
Researchers found that many of the studies were flawed, specifically in the definition of “abstainers.” The moderate drinkers in these studies were compared to abstainers who had cut out alcohol due to poor health. This resulted in a faulty comparison.
Once corrected for “abstainer biases” and other study issues, moderate drinkers no longer showed significant health advantages. The 13 studies that did not have “abstainer biases” also showed no health benefits to moderate drinkers.
There may be other chemicals in wine that are beneficial to our health, but this has yet to be proven, according to the analysis.
Another misconception is that alcohol is an evil devil drink.
Like most everything else humans consume, moderate alcohol consumption is fine. As long as one accounts for the calories, dehydration and vitamin depletion pertaining to alcohol consumption, drinking can be safe, May said.
“The calories differ slightly between alcohol choices, and can range between 80 and 140 calories,” May said. “This does not take into account sugar sweetened beverages and syrups that are often mixed with alcohol.”
She also mentioned that alcohol removes the vitamins A, B1, B3, B5, B6, B9, B12, C and zinc from the body. Alcohol also makes those vitamins harder to absorb after drinking.
With this knowledge in mind, those who drink should make sure they are getting the proper amount of these vitamins. One should also assess their own health before drinking, May said.
“Understanding the impact of excessive alcohol consumption and nutritional information will hopefully help students to moderate and live a healthier lifestyle,” May said.