Giving up alcohol may improve mental well-being, study finds

For years, Canadians have been told drinking alcohol in moderation is safe and even beneficial to their health. But a new large-scale study provides more evidence that the healthiest amount of alcohol consumption may be none at all.

Researchers of the study, published in the CMAJ on Monday, analyzed survey data from nearly 10,400 participants in Hong Kong and more than 31,000 participants in the United States. They found men and women lifetime abstainers of alcohol reported the highest level of mental well-being at the start of the study, and women who drank moderately saw an improvement in their mental well-being after they quit.

“Our study provides more evidence suggesting caution in recommending moderate drinking as part of a healthy diet,” co-author Michael Ni, a clinical assistant professor in the school of public health at the University of Hong Kong, wrote in an e-mail. “Quitting drinking even at moderate levels was shown to be linked to a favourable change in mental well-being in both Chinese and Americans.”

The study adds to emerging research that challenges the idea that drinking in small doses is good for one’s health. These findings come at a time when health experts, including Canada’s chief public health officer Theresa Tam, have voiced concerns over high rates of alcohol consumption among Canadians. In her 2018 report on the state of public health in Canada, released last fall, Dr. Tam said Canadians are not paying enough attention to the harms of alcohol. She noted nearly 80 per cent of Canadians, ages 15 and older, had reported drinking alcohol in the past year.

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