A little, a lot, or not at all?

A study that took 20 years and was carried out on British civil servants was published recently. The study seems to suggest that heavy drinkers live longer, and have lower incidences of coronary heart disease than teetotalers. Of course, as Steven Novella explains, that conclusion from the study is very likely to be an artifact of some bias in the data analysis than an actual suggestion that people should start downing bottles every night. The study, like many others before it, was focused on trying to explain what effects, if any, moderate drinking has compared to little, heavy, or no drinking. Many of the people counted as non-drinkers were people who had been drinkers, or even alcoholics, in the past.

That question has been studied so often that the seemingly paradoxical answer that moderate drinking enhances longevity, and leads to better health is considered established fact (at least by the lay-public). This study has, in this sense, nothing game-changing to offer. They find that longevity and good health are best with moderate drinking, followed by little drinking, followed by heavy drinking and no drinking. The last bit is where the press got carried away. As usual.

I read about another study that seemed interesting, via SciAm. The study says that people are hopelessly bad at judging how drunk others are, especially when the blood alcohol content is around .10%  (the legal limit is .08% BAC). The study claims to have looked at police officers who are charged with checking motorists for drunk driving. While it is easy to point out if somebody is sloshed (.15% BAC), the study concludes that using only common-sense pointers, people can’t really tell if others are just tipsy, inebriated, drunk, sloshed or dead. (Okay, I may be exaggerating a bit in that last part.) The author points out that sobriety tests need to be designed with this in mind.

My point of view on this matter is perhaps as balanced (or indifferent, depending on how you want to look at it) as possible: Meh. People who want to drink, drink. People who don’t want to drink also drink, but they’ve to be weaned off their teetotalism gently. As long as these people who drink and people who don’t drink are drinking with company*, I see nothing wrong with alcohol or its passage down oesophageal tracts.

* They say the only people who prefer getting drunk alone are alcoholics.

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