Who else loves a cocktail on a terrace during a hot summer day?
Now that restaurants are reopening and small gatherings are allowed, social drinking has become more than just a virtual thing again. In fact, a recent study revealed that Canadians’ alcohol intake increased since the beginning of the covid-19 pandemic (3).
Is that a good thing? Let’s see…
In the short term, small amounts of alcohol can provide stress relief. A recent poll showed that increased alcohol consumption during the pandemic was mainly caused by boredom, stress and loneliness (3). Otherwise, people drink mostly to alleviate suffering, sadness, anger or restlessness (1). YET alcohol does not address these causes at their core. It’s like putting on a bandaid: it covers up but the wound is still present.
In the long term, more alcohol is needed to achieve the psychological benefits. This results in an increased alcohol consumption which is likely to turn into addiction (1). When an individual suffers from mental health issues and has an alcohol dependence, a vicious cycle takes place where one worsens the other.
We all know that proper sleeping habits improve health in a substantial way. Drinking alcohol before bed can make you fall asleep faster, but it will affect your sleep by cutting it off short or making you wake up often during the night (1). That said, alcohol isn’t a proper solution to insomnia!
Studies have shown that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol can improve heart health. Red wine does that by raising good cholesterol, lowering bad cholesterol and also by thinning blood, preventing blood clots (1). In fact, best results were found in participants who drank 1.1 alcohol portions per day, having a lowered cardiovascular disease risk by 14 – 25% (1).
However, drinking excessively has been associated with a greater risk of heart disease. Excessive alcohol consumption for 5+ years could result in arterial stiffness, which basically makes your heart work much harder to pump the blood into your body (1).
Keep in mind that there are other healthier ways to improve heart health, such as exercising regularly. Yes I know, drinking a glass of wine requires much less effort, but exercising is a much more promising solution!!
Other health risks
Excessive alcohol drinking can lead to other physiological issues, such as alcoholic liver disease and cancers (2). Actually, alcohol increases the risk of mouth, pharynx and larynx cancers (1). However, this depends on the amount and frequency of alcohol consumed, AND on many other biological factors, such as genetics.
Excessive drinking also affects our immune-system, which can reduce our body’s ability to recover from infection and make us more susceptible to pneumonia (2). Such as recovering from Covid-19, cough cough.
Pregnancy & preconception
As we all know, pregnant women shouldn’t be drinking alcohol. It’s a toxic substance that gets quickly passed into the foetus’ bloodstream and can affect its growth, especially during the first trimester.
As for the second and third trimesters, research hasn’t determined a completely safe minimum consumption threshold for healthy foetus development (1). That’s why the safest choice is to avoid alcohol altogether during pregnancy.
In fact, reducing alcohol consumption from the moment you want to conceive is an even better option. Think of it, your egg is produced during the preceding period cycle, and we can’t identify the exact moment fertilization occurs. That way, you’ll be sure to provide your child with a healthy and favourable environment for optimal development.
5 tips for healthy drinking
1) Follow your Doctor’s recommendations
If you’re unsure about your drinking habits, ask your doctor! They know your medical history and your health profile best, so they can recommend whether you should be drinking moderately or not at all.
We’re all biologically different and present different risk levels for disease, depending on our family health history, our current health situation, etc.
2) Follow Canadian guidelines for men and women
Women have a lower biological tolerance to alcohol than men. Here is why: they usually weigh less and their metabolism digests alcohol differently.
- Women: maximum 2 per day and 10 per week (1)
- Men: maximum 3 per day and 14 per week (1)
These recommendations are for lower risks of health problems, but NOT without risk. Just to be clear.
3) Drink while eating
When working from home, alcohol is easily accessible. Whereas at work, in an office or a store, there isn’t any alcohol on hand. If you’re tempted to drink at every hour of the day, allow yourself to drink only while eating, and after a certain time (breakfast isn’t a recommended option). Drinking on an empty stomach is a no go!
4) Stay hydrated
Alcohol is a dehydrating substance, which can be difficult to clear from our system if we’re not drinking enough water. A trick is to alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.
5) Don’t drown your problems in alcohol
There are numerous stress relievers out there that can help you cope in healthier ways: exercising, meditating, binge watching your favourite show, talking to a friend or a professional, spending time in nature, etc. Try that for a change!
Just because alcohol is normalized by society, it doesn’t mean that it’s good for you.
1. Educ Alcool. Facts and consequences: Alcohol and health. https://educalcool.qc.ca/en/facts-and-consequences/alcohol-and-health/
2. Sarkar, D., Jung, M. K., & Wang, H. J. (2015). Alcohol and the Immune System. Alcohol Research : Current Reviews, 37(2), 153–155.
3. Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (April 2020). Covid-19 and Increased Alcohol Consumption: NANOS Poll Summary Report. https://www.ccsa.ca/sites/default/files/2020-04/CCSA-NANOS-Alcohol-Consumption-During-COVID-19-Report-2020-en.pdf