If you have a weekend of bottomless brunches and Saturday night cocktails to look forward to, we have some exciting news: Drinking (provided it is in moderation) may actually be good for your health. A study recently published in the journal Addiction found that heavy drinkers and teetotalers took more days off sick than their moderate-drinking friends – something their employers might be thankful for.
Researchers at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health came to this surprising conclusion after conducting two separate surveys taken a few years apart. More than 45,000 respondents from the UK, France, and Finland were quizzed on their drinking habits and asked to disclose the number of days they had called in sick in four to seven years. The researchers later collected information on those absences from national and employer registry reports.
They then divvied up the volunteers into five categories: "abstainers" (teetotal in both studies), "low-risk" (moderate drinking levels in both studies), "former at-risk" (heavy drinkers in the first study only), "persistent at-risk" (heavy drinkers in both studies), and "new-at-risk" (heavy drinking in the second survey only).
To be considered a heavy drinker, women had to consume 11 or more European-sized servings of alcohol weekly. For men, it was 34 or more servings. Moderate drinking was anything less than this, provided they weren't abstainers.
So, what did they find? Aside from the fact that moderate drinkers appeared to have fewer health problems, they found that the teetotalers were most likely to take time off due to mental disorders, musculoskeletal disorders, diseases of the digestive system, and diseases of the respiratory system. In contrast, heavy drinkers (no shockers here) were far more likely to call in sick because of injury or poisoning.
The latter is rather obvious – you are more likely to tumble down the stairs after a few too many mojitos or end up in the hospital with your stomach pumped because you've gone a little too hard on the tequila slammers.
The former is more intriguing and the researchers don't have a clear answer as to why it is. It's worth pointing out that the link between not drinking and sickness is correlational and not cause and effect, so there may be some underlying cause that explains both. For example, some people abstain not out of choice but because of health problems. The researchers also found that people from poorer backgrounds were more likely to be teetotal than those of wealthier backgrounds.
There are limitations to the study. It was self-reported and Europe-centric, so it may not apply to people of other cultures. However, it does seem to add to data that suggests that as long as it is in moderation, drinking alcohol is not too bad for your health. Other studies suggest it may be able to boost the brain's self-care mechanism and reduce the likelihood of developing diabetes.
Of course, regular heavy drinking is extremely bad for you and has been linked to various health problems, including dementia, liver problems, and a shorter life expectancy.