I hate to be the harbinger of bad news as we approach the festive and wedding season right around the corner, but I want to get straight to the point — no level of alcohol consumption is safe for our health.
In January 2023, the World Health Organisation published a statement in The Lancet Public Health to this effect.
Why Should You Stay Away From Alcohol?
Here are some reasons why you should stay away from even light and moderate drinking.
Alcohol is a proven group 1 carcinogen (agents that increase the risk of cancer). Group 1 is the highest risk group which also includes asbestos, radiation and tobacco.
Alcohol can lead to at least seven different types of cancer, including common ones like bowel and breast cancer. When we drink alcohol, it is absorbed from the small intestine and goes into the liver, where the liver enzymes metabolise it into its by-products that increase cancer and other health risks. This metabolic process is the same irrespective of the type of alcoholic drink or the quality. So no matter how expensive the alcohol, it still poses the same cancer risk.
The rule of moderation does not apply to alcohol.
You might wonder how we’ve heard for decades about that glass of wine being good for the heart and how red wine is rich in the health-boosting antioxidant resveratrol.
What Have Other Studies Indicated?
Let’s do some math here. Animal studies indicate that a minimum of 500 mg of resveratrol is needed to provide any health benefits (resveratrol supplements usually aim for 1-2g/day) and it takes 40 litres of wine to get that 500mg of resveratrol. So that argument doesn’t quite hold water.
A 2021 study revealed that in 2017, in the European Union, 23,300 new cases of cancer were attributable to light to moderate drinking (1–2 drinks per day). Everybody understands the health risks of heavy and binge drinking such as high blood pressure, stroke and alcoholic liver disease. Somehow, light and occasional drinking have always been socially acceptable even by health-conscious people, who believe that alcohol like red wine reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and mortality.
To establish a "safe" level of alcohol consumption, credible scientific evidence must confirm that up to a specific threshold, there is no discernible risk of illness or injury linked to alcohol intake. We don't have clear proof that there's a specific amount of alcohol which suddenly becomes harmful for causing cancer. Also, there haven't been studies showing that the small health benefits of light or moderate drinking (like helping with heart and diabetes issues) outweigh the risk of cancer for each person.
I’m usually an advocate of moderation when it comes to diet and lifestyle, but when it concerns alcohol, the above-mentioned studies and arguments strongly indicate that no quantity of alcohol is safe.
It is alarming how we as a society have normalised drinking as a way to have harmless fun with family and friends when in reality, it is something that poses a health risk right from the first drop.
What starts off as moderate or light drinking can easily slip into alcohol addiction because of how alcohol physically alters the brain’s functioning and chemistry. Even if someone has the intention to stop drinking after a point, the impact alcohol has on decision making and impulse control, makes it very difficult to stop.
What To Drink If You Decide To Go Sober
A couple of months ago, I was at a fancy new restaurant in Goa with a cocktail menu categorised by time of day, that was many pages longer than the food menu. What I did notice and appreciate was that they had a page of the menu dedicated to zero-proof (non-alcoholic) versions of rum, gin, and wine.
A younger (and less wise) me would have thought ‘What’s the point of this, just drink a lime soda or a mocktail!’ But these sober versions of alcohol taste like their alcoholic counterparts with none of the alcohol content allowing people to enjoy their drink without feeling deprived or standing out as weird in a social setting.
I asked a couple of my teetotaler friends with active social lives what they drink in gatherings. One of them said it’s mostly just water which is easy to pass off as vodka or water with a splash of coke that looks like whisky. This helps avoid needless pressure from the others to have a drink. The other friend sticks to tonic water or soda with ice. There are many homegrown tonic water brands that have interesting flavours like grapefruit, elderflower, cucumber and so on, which are low in sugar and great to taste as well, making them a great choice.
As someone who would have just one glass of wine or a shot of whisky in gatherings, I have almost entirely switched to drinking kombucha (most parties serve it these days) or a sugarless mocktail. The high from knowing that I am keeping away the ill effects of alcohol and that I am not going to suffer a headache is better than any feel-good alcohol has ever given me.
So here are the options to choose from if you are convinced to kickstart your sober life or just kick off sober in October.
- Plain water (show your teetotaler self proudly)
- Soda with ice and lemon slices (plus sprigs of herbs for extra flavour)
- Kombucha in its various interesting flavours
- Non-alcoholic wine, rum, gin and beer
- Virgin Bloody Mary (a reliable no-sugar mocktail)
- Fresh lime soda with salt (the real old-fashioned drink)
- Kombucha-based mocktails (mixing them with soda and juices)
- Tonic water
- Brewed ginger ale (low on sugar as compared to commercially canned ones)
Make sure you earn some good karma by sharing this with your friends who think that light to moderate drinking is just harmless fun.