Despite recommendations that moderate drinking can be part of a healthy diet, new findings suggest people who abstain enjoy the highest level of mental wellbeing.
The study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), compared teetotallers with moderate consumers of alcohol – 14 drinks or fewer for men and seven or fewer for women.
Those who never drink alcohol had the highest level of mental wellbeing at the start of the five-year analysis. And for female drinkers, quitting was linked to a favourable change in mental health in both Hong Kong and US populations.
Co-author Dr Michael Ni, a brain scientist at the University of Hong Kong, said the evidence “suggests caution in recommending moderate drinking as part of a healthy diet”.
Dr Ni and colleagues said quitting alcohol may improve overall health-related quality of life as well as mental wellbeing, especially for women.
His team looked at 10,386 participants from the FAMILY Cohort in Hong Kong and data from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions – a representative survey of 31,079 people conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in the US.
The results stood after taking into account socio-demographic factors, BMI (body mass index) and smoking status.
Dr Ni said: “Global alcohol consumption is expected to continue to increase unless effective strategies are employed. Our findings suggest caution in recommendations that moderate drinking could improve health-related quality of life.
“Instead, quitting drinking may be associated with a more favourable change in mental wellbeing, approaching the level of lifetime abstainers.”
The findings will raise further questions over what is a safe and sensible amount to drink. Advice from the UK’s chief medical officer said it is safest for men and women not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week – equal to around six pints of beer or six glasses of wine.
Another study by the University of Cambridge last year said regularly drinking more than recommended limits is as bad for health as smoking.
They estimated a 40-year-old drinking two pints or glasses of wine a day above guidelines can expect to die two years early and was associated with a higher risk of stroke, fatal aneurysm and heart failure.