Despite headlines about “sober bars” and better options in non-alcoholic beer, Americans on the whole are still big drinkers. One in six Americans binge drinks every week, and while women don’t do so as frequently as men, we’re not not getting drunk, either. And—hold on to your butts, ladies—a new study suggests that if we gave up even our moderate drinking, we’d feel better. Shocking, I know. Let’s dive in.
Research published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal examined multiyear data from more than 10,000 people in America and Hong Kong; it found that women who quit drinking reported better overall mental well-being in the four years after quitting than women who didn’t stop drinking. They also found that people who have always abstained from alcohol reported the highest level of mental well-being.
While much of this might seem intuitive—few doctors would say drinking is great for your mental health—there are some interesting points worth picking apart. Notably, while women who never drank report the highest levels of mental well-being, women who quit approach the same level as lifetime abstainers within a four-year period. “In contrast, initiation and persistent moderate drinking for four years were not associated with better mental or physical well-being,” the authors write. “These results remained consistent after adjustment for sociodemographic characteristics, BMI, smoking status, self-reported diseases and physical activity.”
That’s an attention-grabbing finding, especially for those of us who drink moderately and assume that level of consumption is just fine for our physical and mental health. Even if you don’t consider alcohol problematic to your mental health, it suggests, you could potentially feel better by quitting altogether. The authors cite a 2018 Cambridge University study that similarly found taking breaks from even moderate drinking led to positive mental and general-health effects over the course of two years. The findings are perhaps good motivation to take breaks from alcohol periodically, even if you drink at responsible levels; though it’s too bad the mental-health benefits might not be noticeable for a few years. Americans do love our instant gratification almost as much as we love our booze.