Hilary Boden ponders the potential benefits of alcohol 


With many of us trying to recover from self-inflicted “Freshers’ Flu”, and the Scottish ban on irresponsible supermarket drinks deals coming into practice, alcohol is getting a lot of bad press as usual. It’s common knowledge that alcohol is bad for us -we’ve all had the spiel about alcohol safety from our schooldays. But as fully fledged (and legal) student drinkers, is there any good news for us?

The new Scottish laws ensure that shops and supermarkets can no longer offer multi-buy drinks deals, restricts alcohol advertising, introduces a “social responsibility levy” on some licence holders and ups the age for required age verification to 25. Furthermore, there are plans to re-introduce minimum alcohol pricing proposals which have been halted by opposition parties in the past. There are plenty of reasons for all of this: in August this year, NHS Scotland found that Scottish adults were drinking 23% more alcohol than their English and Welsh counterparts. The wide-ranging list of long term effects of drinking too much includes liver damage, increased risk of cancer, reduced fertility, impaired memory, poor digestion and damage to your DNA, to name a few. According to a study in The Lancet last year, alcohol is more dangerous to society and individuals than heroin or crack, due to its widespread use.

So far, not so good. So should we give it all up, and never touch another drop in an effort to escape the myriad of unpleasantness listed above?

Maybe not. A 2010 study in the Journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research found that abstaining from alcohol actually increases the risk of dying. The study followed 1,824 participants between 55 and 65 years old over a twenty year period. Care was taken to exclude from the study former alcoholics who had quit, ensuring that those participants who abstained from drink had done so throughout their lives. During this time, a rather high 69% of abstainers passed away, especially when considering that only 41% of moderate drinkers died. Counter-intuitively, moderate drinkers were also 23% less likely to die than light drinkers. Even more shockingly, even heavy drinkers lived longer than those who did not drink at all, with only 61% of them passing away during the study. Apparently if you want longevity, it is better to drink excessively than not at all!

What are the reasons for this? The benefits of red wine are well known, with its antioxidants and resveratrol which can help to prevent cancer, but there are also certain cardiovascular benefits of alcohol, such as increased levels of the “good” HDL (High-density lipoprotein) Cholesterol. But there may be reasons less chemical: alcohol de-stresses, and is a well known social lubricant. Moderate drinkers are more likely to have more friends and are more likely to be married than abstainers. Recent studies by sociologists and epidemiologists have investigated the long term effects of loneliness, reporting that it is actually very dangerous: we are more likely to die from pretty much everything if we are lonely.  If drinking in moderation can help us with social interactions and to develop our friend support network, surely that counts as a health benefit then?

Once I’ve gotten over this Freshers’ Flu, that’s the line of logic I’ll be taking when next in the pub.


Hilary Boden

Image credit – andrew_mc_d