Quitting alcohol is good for the health of women and may improve their overall quality of life and mental well-being. That's according to a new study published today in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
"Global alcohol consumption is expected to continue to increase unless effective strategies are employed," said Dr Michael Ni of the University of Hong Kong in a statement. "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 favorable change in mental well-being, approaching the level of lifetime abstainers."
The researchers set out to determine how altering drinking patterns can influence changes in physical and mental well-being in a Chinese population by analyzing a study of more than 10,000 participants. Of those surveyed, 64 percent of men were nondrinkers compared with 88 percent of women. The team then compared the results of the Chinese study to data from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, a US survey of more than 31,000 people and their alcohol habits.
Overall, the researchers found that women who had quit drinking during the course of the four-year study had a greater improvement in mental well-being than people who had abstained from alcohol throughout the course of their lives even when adjusting for sociodemographic characteristics, body mass index, smoking status, and other factors. Within four years of quitting, women achieved the level of mental well-being of those who had abstained from drinking throughout their lifetime.
The explanation and mechanism behind this are not clear, but the researchers note that it is possible that alcohol-related neurotoxicity reverses after quitting alcohol. Additionally, alcohol cessation may reduce stressful life events, like conflicts with families, difficulties in employment, and the general miserableness of being hungover.
Meanwhile, cultural differences could account for the varying individual results found between the two studies.
For example, men and women in the Chinese cohort who had abstained from alcohol had the highest mental well-being at the beginning of the study. On the other hand, moderate drinkers in the US were found to have healthier attributes than abstainers. The researchers note that this could be explained by cultural differences in how alcohol is perceived; consumption among Chinese populations is less normative with most women having four or less alcoholic drinks each month.
The authors are quick to note a handful of limitations, including those associated with self-reported surveys and the relatively short period given to capture such broad lifestyle habits and changes.