Nov 23, 2018

A few drinks aren't that bad

Previously: No amount of alcohol improves health.

Julia Belluz of Vox (a) keeps us epistemologically modest & off the wagon:


The authors focused on the risk increase between zero and one drinks per day, and suggested “consuming zero standard drinks daily minimized the overall risk of all health loss.” Yet you’ll notice the risk between zero and one, in the bottom left corner of the chart, is virtually indistinguishable.

Aaron Carroll of the Upshot gives a useful comparison:

For each set of 100,000 people who have one drink a day per year, 918 can expect to experience one of the 23 alcohol-related problems in any year. Of those who drink nothing, 914 can expect to experience a problem... At two drinks per day, the number experiencing a problem increased to 977. Even at five drinks per day, which most agree is too much, the vast majority of people are unaffected.

So it's true that abstaining is better for you than drinking moderately, but only by a minuscule amount (as far as we know).

There's some interesting discussion of Puritanism and abstention in Julia's EconTalk interview (a). "Puritanism is the haunting fear that someone, somewhere is having a good time."

An interesting takeaway from the meta-analysis is that one drink a day probably isn't good for you, though we don't really know (it could be protective for some populations and harmful to others). And a drink per day doesn't appear to cause much harm at all, in aggregate.

Just in time for the holidays! Happy drinking, everyone.