Study: Best mental health with no alcohol

Sep 12, 2019

According to the results of a new study, giving up alcohol could improve our well-being, even for those people who practice moderation when it comes to drinking.

The research, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), examined data collected by a survey from approximately 31,000 participants in the United States and 10,400 participants in Hong Kong. The results of the study revealed that both men and women who had abstained from drinking alcohol also reported the highest level of mental well-being at the beginning of the study. Moreover, women who practiced moderate drinking experienced an improvement in mental health after quitting alcohol over the four-year period of the study. “On average, the mental well-being of female quitters approached the level of lifetime abstainers within a four-year period,” said the study.

“Our study provides more evidence suggesting caution in recommending moderate drinking as part of a healthy diet… Quitting drinking even at moderate levels was shown to be linked to a favourable change in mental well-being in both Chinese and Americans.”

Dr. Michael Ni, Clinical Assistant Professor at the School of Public Health, University of Hong Kong

The study findings add to recent concerns from Canadian health experts and public agencies over increasing alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harms affecting Canadians. Ken Flegel, senior editor of CMAJ, said despite the study using American and Chinese participants, its findings are also relevant to Canadians. According to Flegel,  “[The differences in alcohol metabolism between cultural groups] aren’t major… And the bad effects of alcohol seem to be universal.”

Catherine Paradis, senior research and policy analyst at the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, notes that despite the prevalent belief that consuming alcohol in moderation can be safe and even provide certain health benefits, recent studies have proven otherwise.  “Now we know that that’s not really the fact… More and more, we doubt this idea that there’s this protective effect of drinking,” she said.

Paradis has also expressed concerns around recent efforts to expand alcohol sales in Canada. “What is concerning right now is we are going in the complete opposite direction in this country… We need to rethink this. If not, we will wake up with a national hangover in a few years,” she said.

Canada’s chief public health officer, Theresa Tam, has also voiced concerns over high rates of alcohol consumption among Canadians. In her report published in 2018 examining issues around public health in Canada, Tam said that Canadians do not give enough attention to the harms of alcohol. According to those report findings, almost 80% of Canadians aged 15 and older had reported drinking alcohol in the past year.