Exploring psychological benefits associated with moderate alcohol use: A necessary corrective to assessments of drinking outcomes?
The aim of this paper is to identify positive psychological concomitants of moderate alcohol consumption. Current research and public-health perspectives on alcohol emphasize harms disproportionately relative to benefits. The major exception is research establishing beneficial effects of moderate drinking on cardiovascular health and overall mortality. In addition, much observational and experiential data suggest the widespread prevalence of positive drinking experiences. This paper is one of the first attempts since 1985 to codify such benefits in epidemiological terms. Methodological difficulties in accomplishing this include defining moderate drinking, controlling for confounding variables, and establishing causality. Nonetheless, evidence of psychological benefits has been found in experimental, observational, interview, self-report, correlational, and some prospective research. These positive findings are in the areas of subjective health, mood enhancement, stress reduction, sociability, social integration, mental health, long-term cognitive functioning, and work income/disability. Problem drinkers and alcoholics also seek mood and other benefits from alcohol, but are more likely to drink to counteract negative feelings and to support their egos than are social drinkers. It is as yet impossible to determine to what extent moderate alcohol consumption causes positive psychological outcomes and to what extent it is part of a complex pattern of mutually reinforcing variables.