Moderate drinkers healthier than abstainers and ex-drinkers

November 02, 2001

Moderate drinkers appear to be healthier than both former drinkers and lifelong abstainers, according to a new study.

Previous studies have shown that light-to-moderate drinkers have certain health benefits compared with teetotalers. However, some of these studies had not adequately accounted for potential differences between lifelong abstainers and former drinkers, the latter of whom may have quit drinking because of health problems.

This study found that both the abstainers and the ex-drinkers had worse mental and physical health than light-to-moderate drinkers. In addition, the lifelong abstainers were less likely to seek preventive care or take other beneficial health measures -- similar to the pattern of health behaviors seen in heavy drinkers -- according to the study in the November issue of American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

"Compared to people with other drinking statuses, light-to-moderate drinkers may be more likely to engage in preventive health care service use and slightly more likely to try to improve various health behaviors," say Carla A. Green, Ph.D., M.P.H. and Michael R. Polen, M.A., of the Kaiser Permanente's Center for Health Research.

Their study showed that people who did not drink at all and those who had given up drinking had worse health, both physical and mental, than people who were light-to-moderate drinkers. The former drinkers also were slightly less healthy than the lifelong abstainers, suggesting that they may have stopped drinking because of ill health.

Heavy drinkers also tended to have more medical problems than the lighter drinkers and had worse health behaviors, such as smoking and avoiding doctor visits or preventive care.

The study included data on 3,803 Kaiser Permanente members who responded to a 1995 postal survey. Light-to-moderate drinkers were considered respondents who had 60 or fewer drinks a month and heavy drinkers those who had more than 60 drinks a month.

"There are important similarities and differences in the health and functional status of persons who do not drink alcohol, compared with light-to-moderate drinkers," the researchers say. "Both lifelong abstainers and former drinkers were less healthy (physically and mentally) than light-to-moderate drinkers and had greater impairment in their mental and physical function."
The study was funded by Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, Inc.

The American Journal of Preventive Medicine, sponsored by the Association of Teachers of Preventive Medicine and the American College of Preventive Medicine, is published eight times a year by Elsevier Science. The Journal is a forum for the communication of information, knowledge and wisdom in prevention science, education, practice and policy. For more information about the Journal, contact the editorial office at (619) 594-7344.

Posted by the Center for the Advancement of Health For more research news and information, go to our special section devoted to health and behavior in the "Peer-Reviewed Journals" area of Eurekalert!, For information about the Center, call Ira Allen, (202) 387-2829.

Center for Advancing Health

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