The evidence for alcohol and health
At Pacific Standard, a doctor, Stanton Peele, writes, The Truth We Won’t Admit: Drinking Is Healthy. He cites a number of studies that show greatly decreased mortality is associated with drinking alcohol. He even goes beyond what articles of this kind usually say, and that is that you can drink quite a lot and still get health benefits. Most such studies and articles come with the caveat that more than one or two drinks a day for a man, or just one for a woman, reduces health benefits, but Peele shows that even a man who has four drinks a day still has a lower mortality than a complete abstainer.
He also shows that another caveat is not relevant. This one is that the group of teetotalers will include both those who are too ill to drink as well as former alcoholics, and since they are likely to die younger, this skews the mortality statistics in favor of drinkers. But a study of only healthy people that controlled for things like smoking and BMI still found that drinkers had an advantage.
Peele also asserts that the legacy of the temperance movement and America’s love-hate attitude to alcohol prevents doctors and health authorities from recommending drinking alcohol as a means to better health, and I think he may have a point.
Drinking is not the causative factor of longer life
There’s only one problem: all the studies he cites are associational only. In other words, people who drink alcohol live longer, but it is far from being proven that alcohol is the cause of longer life. What is needed is a randomized controlled trial in which one group is counseled to drink, the other to abstain, and then see what happens. As far as I can tell, such a study has not been done.
Higher intelligence is robustly associated with better health
The biggest confounder in these studies is that intelligent people drink more alcohol, and IQ is robustly associated with longer life and better health. As the association between drinking and intelligence is often thought counter-intuitive by many people, I reproduce one of the graphs from Kanazawa:
So, the more intelligent people are, the longer they live, and the more they drink, but alcohol seems quite unlikely, in my view, to be the cause of longer life.
Where does that leave us?
I think that one thing we can say about alcohol is that it’s not all bad, it doesn’t harm health if drinking is moderate, at least as far as we can tell. But drinking for one’s health probably won’t work, and unfortunately IQ is hardly malleable at all, so nothing one can do there.
Bottom line: moderate drinking probably won’t kill you, but it probably won’t help much either. Cheers!