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Is There A Benefit to Giving Up Alcohol If You’re a Casual Drinker?

Women who consume as little as one alcoholic beverage a day could improve their mental health by going sober, according to a new study.

The researchers said their findings show that “quitting alcohol improves mental well-being among women.” The study also found that “alcohol abstainers report the highest level of mental well-being.” So what does that mean for folks who think it’s healthy to have a glass of wine each evening? The authors advise “caution in recommending that moderate drinking could improve health-related quality of life.”

The study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, was conducted by researchers from the University of Hong Kong and CUNY’s Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy. The cross-cultural research used data from 10,386 people in Hong Kong and 31,079 people in the U.S.

Researchers compared the physical and mental well-being of participants at two points in time over four years. They looked at lifetime abstainers; people who had been drinkers but who quit; non-drinkers who started drinking, and those who continued to drink in moderation. Moderate drinking was defined as seven or fewer drinks a week for women, and 14 or fewer drinks a week for men. Heavy drinkers were excluded from the study because of the well-known health effects of excessive alcohol consumption.

The study found that women who quit drinking showed the biggest improvement in mental well-being over time, approaching the level of lifetime abstainers within four years.

Interestingly, men who quit drinking did not show the same improvement. “It could be that men and women react differently to giving up alcohol, because of physiological differences,” SPH Professor C. Mary Schooling, a co-author of the study, told Inverse. “Alternatively, alcohol use is a complex activity that may represent more than intake of alcohol. For example, it could be an indicator of active social life in men, but of a guilty pleasure in women.” 

Researchers aren’t sure why women felt better after quitting. But they speculated that it could be due to the “psychological benefits of ‘giving up’ per se,” rather than any physiological impact.

The study also pointed out that the International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies alcoholic beverages as a carcinogen, and that “cross-national studies have recommended the low-risk limit for alcohol consumption to be 100 grams per week.” That’s less than 4 ounces.