Drinking and Women’s Mental Health: A New Perspective?

moderate drinking
Written by Rhona Reid

Another week, another report on whether or not we should drink more alcohol, less or give it up altogether. For every piece of research that assures us a glass or two of wine has cardio-protective qualities, there’s one that suggests the current drinking guidelines are nothing more than out-of-date guesstimates.

The truth is that many of us tread a moderate line, either as a result of the confusion of information or because that’s how it is. However, a new peer-reviewed study published by the Canadian Medical Association Journal seeks to throw new light on how moderate drinking affects our mental health. 

Good News for Moderate Female Drinkers?

The research objective was to look at the impact of alcohol consumption on our quality of life. The result? Giving up alcohol is better for our mental health, especially if you happen to be a woman. 

The study, from a team of doctors at the University of Hong Kong, is a comprehensive one. More than 10,000 participants provided data on their alcohol intake, which was cross-referenced with a comparable United States study. All of the subjects were classified as non-drinkers or individuals who drank alcohol on a moderate basis. 

At the start of the five-year study, the lifetime abstainers presented with the highest level of mental wellbeing. At the conclusion of the research, out of all the participants, the women who quit moderate drinking experienced the steepest upward curve in their mental wellness.

“Global alcohol consumption is expected to continue to increase unless effective strategies are employed,” said Dr. Michael Ni, who co-authored the study. “Our findings suggest caution in recommendations that moderate drinking could improve health-related quality of life.”

Sobering News? 

The research findings are — no pun intended — sobering. It’s one of those times when modern life seems like a dilemma. We want to be as happy as possible. We’re more switched on than ever about the importance of mental health. Can it be true that moderate drinking — relaxing with a glass of wine at the end of a stressful day — is actually adding to our mental load instead of alleviating it? 

Going back to that study, the authors report that in contrast to the improved mental wellbeing of women who quit drinking, those who continued to drink for the duration of the study period showed no improvement in physical or mental health. 

So that end-of-the-day glass of wine isn’t helping much after all, then?

Abstemious or Empowering? 

It’s a powerful thought, that we can tweak a small part of our lifestyle and become — according to this research — happier. It’s also a new way of looking at not drinking alcohol; instead of giving something up, we’re getting something good. 

Even the language around quitting booze leans towards a slightly parsimonious sense of austerity. Abstinence. Abstaining. Giving up or going without. It almost invites the gently ribbing social challenges of “Oh, go on, one won’t hurt” and “C’mon, live a little.” It’s easier to announce that you don’t drink alcohol, period. Not giving it up or abstaining: you just don’t do it. 

Making the Right Choice for You

In fact, forget about other people. We’ve got to answer to ourselves first. Is stopping the moderate drinking that we’ve enjoyed for a good part of our adult lives the right thing to do? Do we want to do it? This is where the recent scientific findings become compelling. If you thought that giving up drinking would be, well … a bit dismal, then is it it’s time to think again? It could make you happier. 

 To be honest, we didn’t see that one coming. We know that heavy drinkers benefit from giving up booze — who wouldn’t feel good about improving their physical health so much? But moderate drinkers? Who would have thought that little ol’ us, with our thrice-weekly glass of merlot, might improve our mental wellness by switching it out for something alcohol-free? 

One Year, No Beer?

Of course, plenty of people quit the booze and thrive. For example, people who try the brilliantly self-explanatory, “One Year, No Beer” challenge are often enthusiastic converts to continuing to avoid alcohol long after the “One Year” bit is done and dusted. 

It’s almost worth having a go, isn’t it? After all, for the less-motivated among us, when it comes to the possibility of self-improvement, what could be easier than just … stopping something? 

Is that the way forward, in light of this new research? Try it. See what you think. Next time you reach for a glass of wine, reach for something else instead. Being a little bit healthier and happier might be that simple.  

About the author

Rhona Reid

Rhona Reid is a US/UK writer. She enjoys writing about health, food, family and current affairs. She was a staff writer for Priority Girl Magazine in San Diego for four years and also spent three years writing for the San Francisco Globe. She also writes fiction for adults and children. Check out her website with the icon below!