Can Drinking Make You Healthier?

If you've been thinking about quitting drinking because you want to be healthier, you may want to reconsider. A recent study found that light and moderate drinkers (both men and women) had better general health than those who never drank or drank large amounts.

The study, conducted by a team of French scientists, looked at the medical records of 150,000 French people to investigate the link between alcohol consumption and health. The researchers categorized the people into four groups: 1. Those who never drank. 2. Low level drinkers (less than 1 glass of alcohol per day). 3.  Moderate drinkers (1 to 3 glasses per day). And, 4. Heavy drinkers (more than 3 glasses per day).

Their findings, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, showed that light and moderate drinkers tended to have reduced rates of heart disease, depression, lower cholesterol, blood sugar levels, and less stress than those who drank excessively or not at all.

The researchers warned, however, that the link might not be due to the alcohol itself. Instead, they believe that people who drink in moderation may simply be more likely to adopt other healthy lifestyle behaviors. For example, engaging in more physical activity, being less stressed, and enjoying a better social status.

Boris Hansel, M.D., endocrinologist at the Pitie-Salpetriere Hospital in Paris, who led the study, emphasized that the study should not be used as evidence to promote alcohol or alcoholism. Excessive drinking is associated with liver disease, many cancers, alcohol poisoning, heart disease, stroke, and fetal alcohol syndrome, and according to the World Health Organization, alcohol is to blame for 2.5 million deaths globally each year.

While the study shows that light to moderate drinking can have some health benefits, anything more than moderate drinking can negate its positive effects. Additionally, if you have certain medical conditions or a family history of alcoholism, drinking alcohol might not be the right choice for you.

Who Shouldn't Drink?

People with certain health conditions shouldn't drink any alcohol (even small amounts could cause problems). Medical experts advise staying away from alcohol if you have:

  • A history of hemorrhagic stroke
  • Liver disease
  • Pancreatic disease
  • Evidence of precancerous changes in the esophagus, larynx, pharynx or mouth
  • If you're pregnant--because of the health risks for your unborn baby

What if I Have a Family History of Alcoholism?

If you have a family history of alcoholism, be particularly cautious when it comes to drinking, as you're at higher risk of alcoholism. Talk to your doctor about what might be right for you.

Does Alcohol Interact with Any Medications?

Yes, alcohol interacts with many common prescription and over-the-counter medications. Consult with your doctor if you take any of the following:

  • Antibiotics
  • Anticoagulants
  • Antidepressants
  • Diabetes medications
  • Antihistamines
  • Anti-seizure medications
  • Beta blockers
  • Pain relievers
  • Sleeping pills

Bottom Line

Don't let the results of this study make you feel pressured to drink. Few medical experts, if any, advise non-drinkers to start drinking. But if you do drink and you're healthy, there's no need to stop as long as you drink responsibly and in moderation.


"Alcohol." World Health Organization. Web. 8 Jun 2010.

Hansel, Boris, Thomas, F., Pannier, B. et al. "Relationship between alcohol intake, health and social status and cardiovascular risk factors in the urban Paris-Ile-De-France Cohort: is the cardioprotective action of alcohol a myth?" European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2010. 64: 561-568.

Mayo Clinic Staff. "Alcohol Use: Why Moderation is Key." Web. 8 Jun 2010.