How Much Alcohol Is Safe To Drink?

How Much Alcohol Is Safe to Drink?

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This post was originally published on May 13, 2014.

So a report issued earlier this year by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) says that no amount of alcohol is safe—at least not when it comes to cancer risk. The more you drink, researchers say, the more you’re at risk. I repeat: no amount of alcohol is considered safe, let alone recommended.

Same News, Different Day

This is not exactly new news. In 1988 the IARC declared alcohol a carcinogen (ethanol being one of the most important carcinogens), connecting the substance to several cancers. A 2103 study by the Boston University Medical Center followed up by finding a causal relationship between alcohol consumption and cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, colon-rectum, liver and female breast. It also found pancreatic cancer and alcohol consumption to have a significant relationship as well as links between alcohol and leukemia, multiple myeloma, cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina and skin (although those links, the researchers admitted, needed further study).

If you’re an alcoholic in recovery, you’ve probably already figured out that alcohol has more negative than positive effects. But if you’re still on the fence about your relationship to alcohol, or if you’re a normie—someone who can go out for drinks with friends without losing your keys, breaking up with your boyfriend, crying in the bathroom, puking in a cab, sleeping with your best friend’s fiancé, picking a fight with a homeless person and ending the night in an ER—you might be influenced by basically every news story that’s ever been written on the matter claiming that alcohol is actually, in some nebulous way, somehow very good for you.

The Allure of Moderate Drinking

Is it just me or does it seem as if we’re constantly being told that drinking in moderation leads to better health and a longer life? The benefits of drinking red wine are particularly familiar. It’s good for your heart! It’ll help you stay youngIt prevents tooth decay and cavities! (Never mind that it’ll stain your teeth or that they’ll rot away from the acidity.) One article I found for the purpose of this piece even claims that “mounting evidence suggests that drinking red wine in moderation can help prevent cancer.” (Hmmm…no links to any of this so-called “mounting evidence.”) We all know that a drink before bed can help you fall sleep, and who hasn’t had a well meaning friend suggest that a drink or two might help you relax? Alcohol is a miracle drug in social situations! Why, it’s so good for you, this article suggests that if you quit drinking you could die!

It’s funny because I vaguely remember paying attention to claims like these before sobriety, as if getting wasted on whatever got me drunk the fastest was some kind of health routine. And sure, alcohol seemed healthy because drinking put me at ease. It put me at ease because I was dependent.

Not A Substitute for Yoga Class, or Sobriety

It’s my suspicion that a lot of people are dependent on alcohol, including a lot of people that produce media reporting on alcohol’s supposed benefits. We’re not all alcoholics per se, but as a society, we use and misuse alcohol a lot and we seem to want to justify that use. I’m not saying everybody needs to get sober, but let’s call it what it is. Just as nobody’s on OKCupid to meet new friends, nobody’s drinking alcohol because alcohol is good for your teeth. Nobody.

Still, every once in a while, a trusted source will publish some convincing something or other about the benefits of booze and I’ll pause and think I’m missing out. Shorty after, though, I’ll feel grateful that I woke up in my own bed, hangover-free, with no one to apologize to, knowing exactly where my keys are. And maybe I’ll take a multivitamin.

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Melissa Petro is a freelance writer and writing instructor living in New York City. She has written for NY Magazine, The Guardian, Salon, The Daily Beast, The Huffington Post, Jezebel, xoJane, The Fix and elsewhere. She is the founder of Becoming Writers, a community organization that provides free and low cost memoir-writing workshops to new writers of all backgrounds and experiences.