One in every eight deaths among people aged 20–64 results from alcohol. Narrow that age range to 20–49, and it’s one in every five.
First, everyone is going to ask where the above data comes from. The answer is a new study, published in JAMA, looking at 700,000 deaths in the United States between 2015 and 2019. It’s a large sample size in a respectable journal. This means the results likely contain far more signal than noise.
At this point, it’s pretty hard to argue that having more than one drink a day is health promoting. It actually appears to be lethal. Theoretically, for some people, the benefits in stress reduction from drinking could outweigh the costs. But the answer isn’t to drink more! It’s to de-stress in other ways!
At one drink (or less) per day the evidence is mixed. However, we do know that even in small amounts, alcohol impairs sleep quality and is detrimental to other health-promoting behaviors. If you want to be dialed-in and performing at your best, less alcohol is more, all the way down to zero. (To be clear, I have no horse in this race. I’m simply looking at the large body of evidence.)
But here’s the catch: alcohol is a big part of our culture.
Drinking can be a highly enjoyable and social event. It’s not all bad, or at least it doesn’t have to be. Life isn’t just about optimization and performance. We need a bit of nuance here.
What if we considered it like this: If an occasional drink always leads to cravings for more, then it’s probably wise to cut it out of your life completely. If not, it’s probably fine to enjoy it responsibly.
Along those lines, thankfully, I am not wired to crave alcohol. However, I don’t like being hungover and, especially as I’ve gotten older, I am highly sensitive to alcohol. In practice, this means I probably have three to five drinks per month, all in social settings.
I live in a town that is all about craft beer. This means there are lots of great options. But I also live in a town that is all about craft coffee! I justify the wild amount of money I spend on coffee by telling myself I don’t spend it on beer! It’s probably not a perfect solution, but it works.