Rethinking drinking: How much alcohol is too much?

Monday November 11 2019



Dr. Christopher Peterson

Dr. Christopher Peterson 

By Chris Peterson

One of the most challenging questions I always face during consultations, is when my patients bombard me on the question ‘what level of alcohol intake is recommended’. My answer usually is, ‘none at all.’

I often feel my patients see me as a miserable spoilsport, always nagging them to give up things they enjoy, especially when it comes to alcohol. But I am a human being too, I know it’s natural to crave for those things. So I tend to take a pragmatic approach along the lines of suggesting that, any amount of alcohol counts.

I have come across various alcohol products written on their labels, “Excessive consumption of alcohol is dangerous to your health, drink responsibly” but my concern is, how much of excessive intake is excessive? Is there such a thing like responsible or irresponsible alcohol consumption? Because what I know is, from the medical point of it, alcohol is alcohol, no matter how little you consume.

Last week, I decided to take this matter on twitter and there, people came with a lot of mixed reactions to it. “Beer and wine manufacturers be like “excessive drinking is harmful to your health” but how much is too much? Don’t come with justifications to make it sound like little levels of alcohol intake is okay. We always make it clear: No alcohol level is safe, I wrote.

People always have different thoughts when it comes to alcohol, as in which type of alcohol product is safe and what is not, what level of it is safe and what level is not? The answers to this debate have been controversial for quite sometime until various researches recently concluded that no alcohol level is medically safe.

We have those who take alcohol occasionally, probably during weekends, we call them moderate drinkers; and those who consume alcohol on regular basis.

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Unlike what it was presumed, these two groups share the same risks. One of them replied to my tweet saying, “I only take beer once or twice a week, how can you compare me with someone who takes it everyday, isn’t this crazy doc?”

A study published by the UK-based Lancet Medical Journal early this year titled: ‘Global burden of alcohol’, suggests that even an occasional drink is harmful to health.

The study was carried out by the researchers who investigated the levels of alcohol consumption and health effects in 195 countries including some of the East African countries to work out the common drinking and health risks. It came to a conclusion that even a little amount of alcohol contributes to a number of negative side effects to your health.

Although most guidelines suggest that there are healthy benefits to one or two glasses of an alcohol drink, but the results of this study, showed that the safest level of drinking is none.

What about wine? People also have different views on side effects of wine. The concept that wine do not pose any risk to health, probably comes from misinformation.

Wine, especially red wine has so many health advantages. Red wines are linked in lowering extra body fat, reducing the risks of heart attack and have some nutrients too but the tricky part of it is, people are fooled by the taste and colour of wine and they forget to consider the alcoholic part of.

Almost all types of wine, despite of their taste and colour, have a certain concertation level of alcohol, and that’s where the problem begins.

With the studies concluding that, no alcohol level is safe, we should now put in our minds that even wine is no longer safe than we used to presume. It’s not the wine itself , but that little concentration of alcohol in it.

Alcohol has negative impacts in our well being. It affects how we look, it affects our mental health, mood and memory, it hosts a number of non-communicable diseases which can be fatal. It’s not about how much of it you take, it’s about it.

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