Alcoholism and alcohol-related problems affect millions of Americans and Canadians. At the same time, studies show that drinking a daily serving of alcohol can improve your cardiovascular health. Over the years, the LHSFNA has often pointed out the dangers of alcohol, but in this issue we acknowledge its value as well. However, we do so with caution.

Do I Drink Too Much?

It is difficult to self-diagnose your own habits and behaviors. Everyone’s body and family history are different, so do not compare your drinking with that of anyone else to asses if you have a problem. Talk to your doctor and ask if you are in the danger zone.

For additional help, call the Alcohol Information Hotline at 800-ALCOHOL or Alcoholics Anonymous at 800-559-9503.

According to the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a serving of alcohol is equivalent to 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor (e.g., gin, rum, etc.). “Moderate drinking” is defined as one serving per day for women and two servings for men. When alcohol consumption follows these guidelines, people may lower their risks for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and gallstones.

Kaiser Permanente Northern California cardiologist Dr. Arthur Klatsky recently told TIME Magazine that light to moderate drinking increases the levels of good cholesterol and “clean[s] the circulatory system’s pipes.” By removing blockages from the blood-vessel walls, the risk of blood clots is reduced, which also lowers the chance of a heart attack.

Drinkers, however, should take into consideration how the effects of alcohol differ based on consumption, individual health issues and the circumstances under which the beverages are consumed.

For instance, some studies on alcohol are based on adults over 45 years old who, due to age or because of medical history, are at a higher risk for developing heart disease. No evidence shows that drinking lowers cardiovascular risks among younger people, and it must be pointed out that even moderate drinking can slightly raise their risk of breast cancer. Women who are pregnant should not drink as alcohol can cause birth defects. Heavier drinking can raise blood pressure and increase the risk of a stroke or certain cancers. Heavy use also sometimes leads to violence or suicide. Moreover, alcohol impairs judgment and behavior. It has absolutely no place at work, and no one who has been drinking should operate a motor vehicle or any heavy machinery.

Alcohol use among construction workers has been and remains a serious problem that imperils on-the-job safety. Drug and alcohol testing has become more common, and campaigns initiated by LIUNA and its signatory employers and backed by the LHSFNA have attacked the problem. These efforts have raised considerable awareness about alcohol’s personal health risks. Yet, the data show that construction still has the heaviest drinkers of almost any industry in the U.S. or Canada.

So, as we write about alcohol’s positive health effect, we also stress its dangers. If you don’t now drink, these dangers are all good reasons to continue to abstain. Nevertheless, according to the data, if you’re a moderate drinker over 45, your drinking is probably doing you some good in the battle against heart disease. The best way to consume safely is to combine your intake with food. That slows the absorption and minimizes the alcohol’s distortive effects.

Drinking in moderation can help build a better heart under the right circumstances. It all starts with knowing your limits and practicing self-control. Be responsible. That is the safest and easiest way to live a longer, healthier life.

The LHSFNA has many publications on alcohol awareness that can be ordered online including the pamphlet It’s Your Choice When You Know the Facts About Drugs and Alcohol and a manual called Orientation to Worksite Drug and Alcohol Testing.

[Jennifer E. Jones]