The benefits of alcohol without the alcohol?
August 7, 2012 9:49 AM   Subscribe

I am increasingly finding that I dislike the (emotional) effect alcohol has on me when I have anything more than a single drink, particularly when tired. I also dislike the fact that I have almost a physical need to drink in the evenings (I think "alcoholic" would be being overly melodramatic in my case, but the need is there all the same). Is there any way to get the health benefits of alcohol without the temptation of an open bottle of wine?

My aversion to drinking is purely down to its mental rather than physical toll. I don't believe I drink enough to be doing serious long term harm to myself (something like a bottle of wine or two a week). I very rarely (a handful of times a year?) drink to the point where I am begin to lose physical coordination. Despite this, I sometimes find myself put in a situation where I have access to much larger amounts of alcohol and then there is strong temptation to throw caution to the wind.

Ideally I would like to quit alcohol entirely, however I am also aware that research is increasingly finding that a small amount of alcohol has significant amount of health benefits. In fact, it now thought that those who don't drink having a lower life expectancy that those that do (although I believe the jury is still out on whether this is because of the lack of alcohol or some other factor of which lack of alcohol intake is a symptom).

So, I guess my question is: is there any way of getting the benefits of a low level alcohol intake without the need to have an entire bottle of wine on hand to tempt me?

Alternatively, has anyone ever discovered a way to limit/control the emotional side-effects of alcohol consumption? I am fed up of being unable to control my emotional state (anger, sadness etc) after just a couple of drinks.
posted by teselecta to Health & Fitness (28 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
One glass of wine is the suggested amount to obtain the potential benefits of alcoholic beverages. Any more than one glass tips the equation over from "beneficial" to "stressing the liver."

So if you're drinking just for the potential health benefits, you should never be having "a couple of drinks."
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:52 AM on August 7, 2012 [6 favorites]

If you want to quit alcohol, do so. No health professional will tell you to power through a drinking problem, however minor, for the "health benefits".
posted by tel3path at 9:53 AM on August 7, 2012 [29 favorites]

Okay you're saying you're probably not an alcoholic but your whole post points towards the spectrum of dependence that is alcoholism. You yourself doubt the purported benefits of some alcohol, but are still using it as some sort of excuse to keep drinking.

has anyone ever discovered a way to limit/control the emotional side-effects of alcohol consumption? People who have this issue solve it by not drinking. Your lack of control during drinking is yet another red flag.

Forget whatever benefits may or may not exist and take a month off from drinking anything. If you can't do it, you have a real problem
posted by MangyCarface at 9:53 AM on August 7, 2012 [9 favorites]

My suggestion would be to have one glass of wine when you're out at a restaurant or bar, and not to keep any wine in the house.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:53 AM on August 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

Consult with your doctor in order to examine all of the actual proven health benefits and health detriments associated with alcohol. You may find that the detriments in your case outweigh the theoretical benefits. Stop drinking unless your doctor says that you really, really need to drink.
posted by The World Famous at 9:55 AM on August 7, 2012

grape juice will do for you what the claim is that wine will do...
posted by Postroad at 9:56 AM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Um, if you are feeling a physical need to drink in the evenings despite not enjoying the effects that alcohol actually has on you, you probably should take a step back from things and just take a month or so off from drinking so that you can reassess the situation from a distance. I'm not saying that you're a full-blown alcoholic (there is a continuum of addiction, it's not a black or white thing) but it's definitely the sort of red flag that in my life would make me step back and knock it off for a while.

The health benefits of alcohol only exist at low levels of consumption. If you're having more than an average of one drink per day, you are in the realm where your long-term health is (statistically) being negatively impacted, rather than positively. The health benefits of alcohol (which are not even conclusively established, as you yourself admit) are much smaller than the health risk of skirting the edge of alcohol addiction. The healthy choice would be to take an extended break from alcohol and rearrange your life and your habits so that it is not a part of your regular routine.

The immediate benefit will be that you will no longer have to worry about being emotionally out-of-control due to excessive drinking, and you will feel better about yourself and more in control of your life, which will make you much more relaxed and therefore healthier. You'll probably also be able to function better and make better decisions in general when you don't have to worry about the emotional effects of alcohol on your life.
posted by Scientist at 9:57 AM on August 7, 2012

If you replace "wine" with "bananas" and "alcohol" with "potassium" in your question, I think everyone here would tell you to find whatever health benefits potassium might provide from some other source.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:57 AM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think it's a really good idea to try and just narrow down which health benefits you want to be getting from the alcohol - presumably you're focusing on the heart-related stuff - and get those by any other means. Get exercise, control fat intake, try to lose some weight, quit smoking, and above all (for you specifically) reduce your stress. Depression and anxiety are hell on your heart, and they are highly correlated with substance use/abuse/control issues.

If you cannot control yourself with a bottle of wine in the house, I personally think that's a great time to try to not drink anymore at all, and/or see a therapist. Don't wait till you've had a few more incidents of throwing caution to wind - it'll be harder to stop then, than it is to stop now.
posted by SMPA at 10:01 AM on August 7, 2012

I don't think you have to worry about occasionally having 2 or 3 glasses of wine (I tend to limit my alcohol consumption to the weekend, usually after 5), but if you're looking for some way to replicate the relaxing feeling of a glass of wine, a cardio workout may be what you're looking for.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:04 AM on August 7, 2012

The causation vs correlation argument on drinking one glass of wine a day is far from settled. Many do not believe there is any causal benefit.

And no-one is arguing for drinking more than one glass of anything per day. The alcohol, calories and tannins are all bad in quantity.

Stop for a month, see how you feel and reassess.
posted by French Fry at 10:06 AM on August 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

Also, if you are looking at heart-related benefits in particular, please read this page from the American Heart Association. Note that excess alcohol consumption actually increases blood pressure and triglycerides, and that the calories from alcohol actually do count (people forget this; wine is only a little better than soda and there are no diet versions that I know of.)
posted by SMPA at 10:10 AM on August 7, 2012

So I assume you exercise 30 minutes every day, have cut processed meats out of your diet, eat no more than 1 egg a day, always eat at least 5 servings of vegetables daily, etc? All of these things have research evidence that they are good for your health, but my guess is that you are not as concerned about these recommendations as the one about alcohol.

Heck, even caffeine has shown some health benefits in studies if you drink it every day. The point is that you don't actually have to follow every one of these lifestyle recommendations to live a long and healthy life. Every person is different, and nutrition research is rarely conclusive. You need to do what works for you, and it sounds like you're savvy enough to realize that this alcohol thing is not working for you. I'm in full agreement that you should only have glasses of wine when you're eating out.

For relaxation, I recommend yoga. Makes me feel great and afterwards I'm not too sleepy or out of it to get some work or reading done before bed.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:16 AM on August 7, 2012 [8 favorites]

So, I guess my question is: is there any way of getting the benefits of a low level alcohol intake without the need to have an entire bottle of wine on hand to tempt me?

A nice, brisk, 45-minute walk outside while listening to your favorite music/podcast/comedy on your earphones should do the trick.
posted by xingcat at 10:17 AM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

The Mayo Clinic is pretty clear that the benefits are minimal and uncertain. I really wouldn't worry about it.
posted by mdn at 10:21 AM on August 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

Red juices at home (pom/cranberry is high in resveratrols), one glass of red wine on occasion when you're out with friends.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:25 AM on August 7, 2012

Alternatively, has anyone ever discovered a way to limit/control the emotional side-effects of alcohol consumption?

It has been my experience that emotional lability when drunk is a direct result of my not processing my emotions in a timely fashion in general. If I bottle stuff up, it will come out when my control is low, usually in a "contents under pressure" sort of way. You should definitely consider trying some ways to access those emotions when sober - journaling, certain kinds of meditation, and AskMe's favorite, talk therapy, are all ways to get that stuff out so it doesn't fester. You may find that if you deal with the emotional side of things, the pressure to drink gets much less.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:26 AM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Agreeing with everyone who says you should probably cut out the alcohol for a while and don't depend on it for "health benefits" that are questionable at best. However, if your concern is that you keep drinking after you've started the bottle and you want help sticking to just one glass, you can buy tiny bottles of wine that have about one glass worth in them.

(I know that people are going to go on about how if you can't stop after one glass you shouldn't drink at all, etc, etc. Fuck it. You do what you do, and this is just another option to consider.)

I don't neccessarily agree that you should stop for a month because time limits do weird things to your brain. You might be able to do a month easy, because in the back of your head you're thinking "soon, soon, things will go back to normal", then go right back to your old ways, and nothing changes. Or you might convince yourself that a month is way too long and crack after three days, when you could otherwise have held out longer. I say do just a week and monitor how it feels, then reassess. You know what? Forget a week. Just do it for today and see how it feels. Then, decide. Do that every day; make your drinking a conscious decision rather than a habit.

Not having the sugar hit from the alcohol every night will be difficult to deal with and might make you cranky or otherwise shitty. I suggest planning your eats accordingly.
posted by windykites at 10:27 AM on August 7, 2012

Sorry, that was in response to: is there any way of getting the benefits of a low level alcohol intake without the need to have an entire bottle of wine on hand to tempt me?

In response to:
Alternatively, has anyone ever discovered a way to limit/control the emotional side-effects of alcohol consumption? I am fed up of being unable to control my emotional state (anger, sadness etc) after just a couple of drinks.

Some would say there is anger/sadness you should deal with in some other way that is just released when you drink. If that seems true, it's one way to go about it - "in vino veritas".

But not everyone agrees, so if you think it's just making you get upset over nothing, more like a sort of emotional allergic reaction, the best thing to do is to stop ingesting what's causing the problem. You can always try again later at a different point in life as these things can change, but for now, stick with the sodas.
posted by mdn at 10:28 AM on August 7, 2012

Drink because you enjoy it, not because of the (debatable) health benefits. If on balance you don't enjoy it then don't do it.
posted by epo at 10:31 AM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

People who do not have issues with alcohol do not have the urge to drink every night and they are able to keep alcohol in the house without being "tempted" by it. I think you would be doing yourself a bigger favor by quitting drinking all together than worrying about any possible benefits you are missing out on by not drinking wine every night. As someone said above, unless you are doing everything dietary recommended for a longer life, plus doing things like yoga, volunteering, attending church regularly and all of the other spiritual/emotional/mental things people who live longer seem to do, there are a lot of other things you can do for your health that will counteract any small benefit alcohol brings to the table.
posted by peacrow at 10:49 AM on August 7, 2012

It would seem to me that the (debatable) health benefits of drinking a glass of wine a day are outweighed by the constant, daily mental stress you experience just by grappling with this question. (Let alone any negative health implications of drinking more than that one glass.)

I'm a firm believer in not doing things just because--if I don't like something and don't see a clear, obvious benefit from it, I'm not going to do it. Why make compromises with yourself and your happiness?
posted by phunniemee at 11:30 AM on August 7, 2012

A bottle of wine can't tempt you, it's an inanimate object. You drink however much you decide to each day. Having made lifestyle changes I found relatively easy (I have a hard limit of one drink because I physiologically tolerate alcohol poorly and that turns out to be the reliable cut-off) and others that I found intensely difficult (quitting smoking).

I have found that pretty universally what I was doing was not being unable to control a behavior but being unwilling to control a behavior: either leaving it "open ended" ("in general I will have only one drink but of course if I'm at a party or out to dinner or if the second one happens to sound really good at any particular moment...") or just reneging on my decision whenever I felt particularly strong craving.

It's funny how when you really own a decision it stops being ambiguous and stops being difficult (there is a difference between something being difficult and something being unpleasant. If you insist on feeling good about your decisions all the time you will not get very far. Understanding this distinction is a big step to succeeding to making the decisions you choose rather than following your impulses moment to moment).

Some people can't handle using (substance X) in any amount without abusing it. I can't smoke a little because at heart I can't want to: If I'm smoking I want to smoke all the cigarettes all the time and as that is physically intolerable, what I can do is want to be a nonsmoker more than I want to be a smoker and there it is. You don't sound like a person who can't handle any amount of alcohol to me so maybe try really being serious about a one-drink, no compromise/no exceptions limit for a while and see how that feels. If you're not a wine snob maybe try a format where the whole packages seems less like a type of serving portion (a bottle) like a better quality box wine.

You don't drink enough to be be physically craving it so maybe you have stress and/or anxiety issues you need to be dealing with as a separate issue.

There would be nothing wrong of course with quitting alcohol entirely for a while and taking a look at those emotional issues outside of its distorting context. The physical benefits of moderate drinking are likely almost entirely a straightforward issue of alcohol benefiting a range of coronary/circulatory issues. Taking some time off is not going to negatively impact your health.
posted by nanojath at 11:32 AM on August 7, 2012

As others have pointed out, What health benefits of alcohol? There might be some benefit to having one glass of red wine per day ... but you probably would have similar benefit from drinking one glass of grape juice per day.

There might be correlation found between overall health of people that consume it moderately vs people that do not consume any... However, I have never seen a study done that prove causation. I have seen vague articles that pretend it is the case, but no study done where one would take a population of completely non-drinkers and have them start drinking alcohol regularly and witness some positive effect that can be unambiguously attributed to the consumption of alcohol.

To your body, alcohol is a poison. In limited amounts, it can produce, for some people, some pleasant side effects. However, you are deluding yourself if you use some health benefits to justify drinking it.
posted by aroberge at 12:02 PM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Can you replace the wine with a different sort of habit? Like switching to green tea for the health benefits it can bring, and really delving into the routine or process of making yourself the perfect cup?

I also can't drink much, if any, at all anymore. The older I get the more difficult the side-effects seem to be-emotionally and physically-I become red and warm in the face and terribly uncomfortable and also sad and obnoxious. Once I realized that I didn't need to go through that I just stopped entirely. People still pressure me to 'just have one' but I politely decline and feel better than ever, instead of dealing with the fallout from the drink.

As far as being tempted, if you simply can't muster the willpower, you need to remove yourself from the situations where there is booze until you can. There's no other magic solution.
posted by pink candy floss at 1:00 PM on August 7, 2012

I wouldn't ever suggest that anyone drink despite a problematical relationship with alcohol, but there seems to be a lot of suggestion that the probable health benefits of moderate drinking are inconsequential, vague, poorly supported by research etc., and this really isn't true. The research is extensive and it is pretty compelling.
posted by nanojath at 9:38 PM on August 7, 2012

Thanks for all the replies. I think I maybe muddied the waters a bit by going into my reasons behind the question but, yes, I recognize that what I need to do (and want to do) is cut out alcohol out of the equation. My concern is that, as nanojath helpfully highlights, there are lots of studies that show that regular low level alcohol intake is healthier than cutting out alcohol altogether. I am fairly certain this is considered pretty much proven at this point (although I believe a recent study found that "low level" is considered to be something like 0.3 units per day).

I guess my question should really have been phrased: what do I need to do to offset the health benefits I lose by cutting out alcohol? For example, I run about 15-20kms per week; would the benefits I gain from this outweigh what I would lose from cutting out alcohol? But maybe that is a little to specific for mefi to answer and I really need to speak to my doctor...
posted by teselecta at 6:19 AM on August 9, 2012

Well I don't know if there's really a one-to-one tradeoff that you can make, but I bet there are lots of things you could do that would make you that little bit more healthy. The benefit imparted by low-level alcohol consumption is not large, it's more remarkable in that it exists at all rather than being remarkable because it's significant.

You could try eating a little healthier. You could start a regular sunscreen regime. You could start flossing regularly. You could get a cat. You could increase the amount that you are saving for retirement. All of these things have proven positive health benefits in terms of being correlated with longer and healthier life and less hospital time and many of them have more benefit than low-level alcohol consumption.

You're overthinking this, which I think is why everyone thought that you were looking for an excuse to keep drinking. I still think (and it seems that you understand this) that what you need is not so much to maintain a low level of alcohol consumption as to develop a healthier relationship to alcohol in general (which for you might mean not drinking) because statistically the outcomes for people who continue drinking despite showing some red flags for early alcohol addiction are much worse than the outcomes for people who realize that they're on a dangerous road and cut out the booze. Any doctor worth his or her salt would tell you that if you're looking at an unhealthy relationship to alcohol, any loss of benefit from the alcohol itself is going to be massively outweighed by the gain in health benefit obtained by dodging the addiction bullet.

Don't worry about it. Your health is not going to fall apart if you suddenly become a teetotaler. Your health *might* fall apart if you keep drinking, though. If you want to do something good for yourself though to help you feel like you're balancing things out, then that's fine -- maybe you should consider vegetarianism or something, or start using that wine money on sunscreen so as to lower your risk of melanoma.
posted by Scientist at 7:57 PM on August 9, 2012

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