It's a long-held belief that some types of alcohol, such as red wine, offer health benefits. But a new study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology has ranked alcohol as the number-one most harmful drug in Australia.
So, if alcohol is bad for you, can it ever be good for you?
Alcohol ranked 'most harmful substance'
The recent study looked at 22 drugs, both legal and illicit, and measured the risk to individuals as well as to the community.
The research found that the substances most harmful to the individuals who use them were the opioid painkiller fentanyl, heroin and crystal methamphetamine ('crystal meth').
The substances most harmful to others — leading to violence, crime, unemployment, economic costs and relationship breakdowns — were alcohol, crystal meth and cigarettes/tobacco.
Overall, alcohol was the most harmful drug when the 'harm to users' and 'harm to others' scores were combined.
But isn't wine a bit healthy?
Not exactly. In the past, headlines have declared that red wine, in particular, may be good for your heart due to its antioxidant content. Antioxidants are protective substances in food that fight off damaging 'free radicals' in the body.
But there is little evidence that the antioxidants found in wine benefit human health. There is, on the other hand, evidence that drinking more than 4 standard drinks per day (of any kind of alcohol) is detrimental to health.
In fact, no amount of alcohol can be considered safe. Regular use of alcohol increases the risk of high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease, cancer, liver disease, depression, fertility problems and injury. Even drinking small amounts of alcohol increases your cancer risk.
"Unfortunately, there are lots of mixed messages around alcohol, but the evidence is clear — there are no health benefits from alcohol," adds Dr Erin Lalor, CEO of the Alcohol and Drug Foundation. "Cutting back can reduce a person's risk of developing chronic alcohol-related diseases."
How to cut back on alcohol
Register for Dry July
Since 2008, Dry July has inspired more than 160,000 people to quit drinking for one month. It's not too late to commit to no drinking alcohol during July (maybe even longer). Ask your friends to sponsor you. The funds raised will support cancer patients' needs, such as accommodation, transport, facilities, entertainment, information and comfort items.
Visit The Right Mix
The Right Mix shows the impact drinking can have on your finances, relationships, body, career and fitness, while offering tips, tools and strategies to help you cut back. You can also download The Right Mix 'On Track' app to track your spending and alcohol consumption.
Follow these tips
Check out this page on healthdirect for advice on reducing and managing alcohol intake.
If you or someone you know needs support or treatment for their alcohol consumption, you can contact:
- your doctor
- the Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS) — for the helpline in your state or territory, visit the website
- Alcoholics Anonymous Australia (1300 222 222)
- the National Alcohol and Other Drug hotline (1800 250 015)
- Hello Sunday Morning — for support in changing your relationship with alcohol
- for a list of local helplines and support services, visit the Alcohol and Drug Foundation
Want more like this?
For health and wellbeing news you can use, go to the healthdirect blog.