The Inconvenient Truth About Alcohol
Drinking is much deadlier than we wish to admit, and the problems start way too early in life
Here’s a little reality many of us don’t want to hear: Alcohol is really bad for us in pretty much any quantity at any age. There, I said it. And yes, you may argue that a stiff belt or two helps you relax in the evening or that a good meal isn’t complete without a glass of wine or that beer is one of the main food groups. I’ve been right there with you for years, pinning my hopes on these delightful illusions to justify one, or one too many, on a regular basis.
But our rose-colored drinking glasses are blind to the fact that alcohol is one of the deadliest things we humans regularly ingest with wholehearted eagerness.
By a very conservative estimate, alcohol shortens the lives of 93,000 people in the United States every year, by a whopping average of 29 years. These numbers include deaths by alcohol-driven car crashes and violence, but 55% owe to heart and liver disease, cancers, and other alcohol-caused health woes.
And it doesn’t take much.
The finding, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, is based on 100 adults who were monitored by electronic devices to measure their actual drinking and their resulting heart-rate changes. Across four weeks, 56 of the individuals had at least one episode of atrial fibrillation and having one was twice as likely among people who’d had a drink in the past four hours. The risk rose slightly with additional drinks.
But that’s just one study. Let’s look at the broader evidence.
Among the leading ways alcohol kills is by atherosclerosis, a narrowing and stiffening or hardening of the arteries caused by a buildup of plaque on the artery walls that forces the heart to work harder, causing high blood pressure that raises the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and dementia. Arterial stiffening happens naturally, but drinking accelerates the process.