I Told You So! Why the American Cancer Society Says to Stop Drinking

Why the American Cancer Society Says to Stop Drinking


By Daniel G. Amen, MD

When I was dating my wife, she promised me she would never say, “I told you so.” She lied. Now, it’s my turn to say it. For over 30 years, I have been telling my patients that alcohol is not a health food. Many of them respond by asking, “But what about all the studies saying moderate drinking is good for your heart?”

It’s true that some studies point to benefits for heart health with moderate drinking, but others show differently. It can seem very confusing. In June, however, the American Cancer Society took a major step in the debate by revising its cancer prevention guidelines to clearly state, “It is best not to drink alcohol.”

I told you so!

For years, the ACS had simply recommended limiting alcohol consumption. The new stance makes more sense for the organization considering its website also says, “Alcohol use is one of the most important preventable risk factors for cancer, along with tobacco use and excess body weight.”

The idea of eliminating alcohol during the pandemic, however, may seem impossible. You may think you need your wine, beer, or Quarantinis to cope with the skyrocketing stress and anxiety of the lockdown, the job losses, and the added social unrest due to the killing of African-American George Floyd by police officers. You’re not alone. Weekly retail sales of alcoholic beverages soared by up to 55% during the pandemic, according to a report in The Guardian.

But drinking isn’t the solution. In fact, our brain imaging work at Amen Clinics makes it crystal clear that alcohol is not good for the brain, mental well-being, or quality of life.


Thousands of brain SPECT scans of “moderate” drinkers reveal abnormal activity patterns in the brain. Alcohol is a toxin that is harmful to the brain, and it increases the risk of cognitive dysfunction and mental illness.

For example, did you know…

  • People who drink every day have smaller brains (when it comes to the brain size matters).
  • A 30-year study in BMJ suggests that moderate drinking (1-2 glasses of wine a day), leads to atrophy in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is involved in memory, mood, and learning.
  • A 43-year study of more than 12,000 people, moderate to heavy alcohol users increased their risk of dementia by 57% compared to nondrinkers or light drinkers.
  • Heavy alcohol use alters neurotransmitters involved in mood and anxiety disorders.
  • Alcohol lowers activity in the PFC, which decreases judgment and decision-making skills.
  • Drinking alcohol increases cravings.
  • Excessive alcohol use is a major cause of divorce.
  • Alcohol is a major cause of domestic violence.
  • Alcohol is a disinfectant, which means it can damage the microbiome. About three-quarters of your neurotransmitters are produced in your gut, and they are in direct communication with your brain. Trouble in the gut has been linked to depression, anxiety, ADD/ADHD, and Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Alcohol is a major cause of motor vehicle accidents and subsequently, head trauma. And mild traumatic brain injuries are a major cause of psychiatric problems, but few people know it.
  • Alcoholic beverages are full of empty calories, which contributes to obesity. Brain imaging studies show that as your weight goes up the physical size and function of your brain go down.
  • Alcohol is addictive, and addiction can ruin your life.


Alcohol addiction is strongly associated with mental health issues, and about 8.5 million American adults with a substance use disorder also have a co-occurring mental health condition. Common conditions seen in people with addictions include:

Many people who struggle with mental health use alcohol as a way to self-medicate. Although this may provide short-term relief from symptoms, it usually leads to long-term problems and almost always makes things worse.

To overcome addictions and mental health issues, it starts with the brain. Brain dysfunction is the #1 reason why people get addicted to alcohol and other substances. And enhancing brain health is the first step to lasting recovery.

When you see all of the negative effects of alcohol, it becomes painfully apparent that it is not a health food. If you want a better brain, a better mind, better physical health, and a better life, it’s best to avoid drinking alcoholic beverages.

Addiction, depression, anxiety, ADD/ADHD, and other mental health issues can’t wait. During these uncertain times, your mental well-being is more important than ever, and waiting until life gets back to “normal” is likely to make your symptoms worsen over time.

At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834. If all our specialists are busy helping others, you can also schedule a time to talk.




    Comment by maria delvecchiomm — June 17, 2020 @ 2:39 AM

  2. This Is really bad news ! My glass of Manhattan at 5 PM is such a pleasant relaxing routine. Can someone please suggest some other drink?
    Nothing sour. I have GERD.
    By the way…thank you very much for the warning.

    Comment by Edith Foley — June 17, 2020 @ 2:45 AM

  3. Great article pls follow with one on ways to quit
    There are meds for cravings and what vitamins help Many people want to quit but need help

    Comment by Marie Howell — June 17, 2020 @ 3:27 AM

  4. Dear Dr. Amen,

    I would like to thank you for this insightful information. My mental and physical health seems outstanding at this time in my life at a youthful 78 years. Although, I am not financially able to participate in your clinical programs or purchase the most important supplements you have my greatest respect. You are my brain guru. God Bless you and again thank you for all that you do for America. You are one of a kind.

    Kindest regards,

    Jerry Rollins

    Comment by Jerry Rollins — June 17, 2020 @ 4:23 AM

  5. Having an alcoholic in the family-everyone is hurting

    Comment by Roberta Allen — June 17, 2020 @ 4:53 AM

  6. We still have a little wine with dinner sometimes (old folks hitting the juice…cute, huh?) but recognize it would be smart to cut it out completely. Zachary Bush’s discussion of the gut lining and everything that enables toxins to breach it … getting to your brain of course…are on the Rich Roll podcast interviews. Alcohol we can control. Glyphosates we can somewhat control by rejecting GMO foods. Consumer support for farmers engaged in organic regenerative agriculture is the mission assigned to all of us. Top down not working. It’s up to us.

    Comment by Edward Flynn — June 17, 2020 @ 5:05 AM

  7. First, let me inform the pseudo-psychologists followers in the crowd, I generally accept the premise that alcohol consumption, on any level, is not healthy. Unfortunately, we are, once again, basing judgement in this article on a secondary research study from Canada…The professor, Adam Sherk (that’s really his name) used an open-access model – Inter MAHP – International Model of Alcohol Harms and Policies. The results used substances from use surveys, hospital data from Canada Institute for Health Information…Understand, there is no primary research indicated anywhere in this study…

    To reiterate, I’m not one to promote alcohol consumption at any level but I have done enough research to conclude, there are many cultures where moderate consumption is engrained and done socially without detriment to a majority of the population. One need only look to a Blue Zone…Sardinia…”Wine at 5″ is a social custom…Many residents are well established in the centenarian club…My proud emigrant background promoted wine with meals, coupled with a focus on a Mediterranean type diet.

    Before making any decision about alcohol or any substance for consumption, be aware of the research, those attempting to promote books, therapy, or medications for self-gratification or profit…Take control of you own health…

    I realize my comments are truthful…thus, more than likely will not be permitted to be shown to the easily led population…

    Comment by Dr. Henry Sinopoli — June 17, 2020 @ 6:24 AM

  8. Thank you for your insights. Never one size fits all!!

    Comment by Chris — June 17, 2020 @ 6:54 AM

  9. I find it interesting that a mental health Avenue is playing on the fears and paranoia of it’s audience.

    Comment by Janette Cupp — June 17, 2020 @ 6:55 AM

  10. Great voice of reason! Thank you for your wisdom in your comment! Balance makes for a wonderful and full LIFE!

    Comment by Robin — June 17, 2020 @ 7:08 AM

  11. To say alcohol is a toxin or equal to a toxin is puzzling to those who worship the God of the Bible. Jesus turned water in wine so why would our Creator do that if it was harmful to us? The key is moderation.

    Comment by C. Don Breidenthal — June 17, 2020 @ 7:08 AM

  12. I get it, but for me I completely stopped consuming any alcohol at all almost 3 yrs. ago. I feel better than i have ever felt, i am now always in my “right mind”, and no more anxiety. Pure serenity. Thank you.

    Comment by Bryan Rockwell — June 17, 2020 @ 7:19 AM

  13. I was an evening wine drinker, every evening. The detrimental effects to my thinking and memory started to scare me. I have been sober for two years now The brain ‘fog’ cleared, my memory and problem solving greatly improved and I dropped 15 lbs! I have been taking the Amen Brain & Body supplements and GABA daily. It has really helped to heal my damaged brain. Very grateful for all your hard work and research the last 30 years!

    Comment by Lori Arellano — June 17, 2020 @ 7:49 AM

  14. Thank you Dr. Henry!! Half truths as presented in the Amen article do not help the community. The title achieves it purpose,”I told you so” comes off as promotion not solid research or edification. Dr. Amen has done good work in the area of brain health solutions. Just this article and the spirit behind it in question.

    Comment by Searching for truth Citizen — June 17, 2020 @ 8:53 AM

  15. Hello Maria, we currently have 8 clinic locations: https://amenclinics.com/locations/.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — June 17, 2020 @ 9:04 AM

  16. How to get the Amen supplements?
    Is literature available concerning these

    Comment by Robert Egan — June 17, 2020 @ 9:40 AM

  17. I don’t have a specific drink substitution, but I have read that taking glutamine will help eliminate alcohol cravings. An immediate craving is helped more by opening the capsule & pouring the contents under the tongue where it can be absorbed quickly. Also, try finding a high quality protein snack that you could consume at 5pm, along with purified water that you’ve infused with frozen organic blueberries or strawberries. That will give your brain a boost!

    Comment by Toni — June 17, 2020 @ 9:49 AM

  18. This is very troubling. There aren’t any resources listed at the end of this article. Can you please provide links to the scientific studies & articles you referenced while writing this article?

    There are some very questionable and generalized assertions in this article as well. Stating that alcohol is a “major cause” of events such as domestic violence and divorce is false. It could perhaps be a contributing factor if, in fact, a person who chooses to get a divorce or engage in domestic violence also chooses to drink. However, it is misleading to state that it is a “major cause” of such events. People make choices and they should be held accountable for their choices. Placing the blame on alcohol consumption is very misguided – it’s also not very scientific.

    Also, quoting the American Cancer Society is dubious. They receive funding from and are overseen by some of the wealthiest people in the pharmaceutical industry as well as others in big business and media.

    I am concerned for those who follow you and your patients. I realize it is human nature to seek out information that confirms your views and beliefs as opposed to seeking out the truth. However, you have a responsibility to those who believe and trust in you. It is very irresponsible to post this kind of content without providing any scientific evidence to support your claims.

    Comment by Anne — June 17, 2020 @ 9:56 AM

  19. I am puzzled by this article and a number of others on health sites here in Canada. Someone commented on the fact that Jesus turned water in to wine – it was a fundamental part of the culture of his day. Wine is advocated in Scripture, though drunkenness, for obvious reasons, is condemned. Wine is still a staple in many countries in the world.

    The wines that we often drink in North America are chemically manipulated and so often are not healthy – many people complain of getting headaches, especially from red wines. However, when wines are made naturally, as they have been for thousands of years, especially using organic grapes and biodynamic methods, and are not manipulated but allowed to ferment as a natural process they can be delicious and healthy – always drunk in moderation. Excess in any food or beverage is never a good thing!

    In North America, alcohol has been abused – our attitude towards it has too often been as a form of escape rather than celebration with good friends and good food. Appropriate consumption of good wine with family and friends increases the pleasure and enjoyment of each other and the experience, and definitely enhances the food, when paired well.

    Do European countries, where wine with a meal is a given, actually have higher rates of heart disease, stroke, cancer related to their alcohol consumption? I don’t believe so.

    Comment by Catherine Reichel — June 17, 2020 @ 10:02 AM

  20. Thank you for that information. It has been my observation that folks from different cultural backgrounds react differetnly to alcohol consumption. For example, indiginous American Indians. Further, I have observed, that friends of mine who come from mixed backgrounds (parents of different ancestral origins) also have different genetic makeup and responses than friends whose parent came from the same ethnic background. I have observed this too many times to thnk it is merely a coincidence. It would be great if there were any scientific evidence to help guide us based on our sgenetic mix.

    Comment by Karl Ludwig — June 17, 2020 @ 11:20 AM

  21. Hello Robert, for information regarding BrainMD Health Supplements please visit: https://brainmd.com/.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — June 17, 2020 @ 12:36 PM

  22. Absolute rubbish one or 2 drinks a couple nights a week will not hurt the great majority if anyone at all. This has to be a flawed study remember the doctor who wrote that immunization shots caused autism we found out that was a lie. Alcoholism kills people and destroys families a few drinks over the course of a week is probably a great stress reducer.

    Comment by Brien Oswald — June 17, 2020 @ 8:12 PM

  23. Henry. Wikipedia does not want its editors to cite primary research, it has to be secondary.

    I go to the cited secondary research and can follow back to primary research that that secondary research cites.

    Comment by Brian Sandle — June 18, 2020 @ 12:22 AM

  24. Henry, please take a look here for the citations from Sherk. Then you may follow back to the citations those studies give. https://www.jsad.com/doi/ref/10.15288/jsad.2020.81.339

    Comment by Brian Sandle — June 18, 2020 @ 12:49 AM

  25. Don, I think it has been said that turning water to wine means bringing knowledge. Possibly through an elevation of consciousness as may have happened at the Wedding in Cana in Jesus’s presence.

    Comment by Brian Sandle — June 18, 2020 @ 1:19 AM

  26. My son is a 34 year old divorced alcoholic living in my basement. He cannot see what alcohol has done to his life. His ex would not stop drinking because she does not have a problem. I never drink. I still work as an RN. I go to different exercise classes. I take Dr Amen’s vitamins. I count my blessings and focus on the positive. I have read 3 of Dr Amen’s books. As a nurse for 43 years I have seen the physical, emotional and financial toll drinking has had on mankind. Thank you Dr Amen and your associates.

    Comment by Donna — June 18, 2020 @ 2:02 AM

  27. In 2018 the prestigious medical journal Lancet released the results of the largest study ever done about the effects of alcohol worldwide (incorporating data from 195 countries and territories). Their conclusion: No level of alcohol consumption is healthy.


    The alcohol industry has been involved in funding research for decades that have pitched alcohol as being ‘good for your health’. The tobacco industry practiced similar tactics for decades. But thankfully the data is emerging showing that the risks FAR outweigh the benefits.

    Dr. Amen is a rare voice among doctors to have the courage to say ‘no amount is good for you.’ And the article barely touched on the family and relational impacts of alcohol use (including low and moderate use). As a practicing marriage counselor, I’ve seen first-hand the correlation between marital distress, affairs, child mistreatment and alcohol. It’s just not worth it, folks.

    Comment by Brent Sweitzer — June 18, 2020 @ 6:25 AM

  28. I have read more studies that admit to alcohol destroying brain cells and reeks havoc on the vital organs. We believe exactly what we want when it comes to things that we wish to do, harmful or not. And it is true that these shots have caused autism is some children and is still being observed today. Robert Kennedy, Jr. is doing research on that and it is a fact that these shots are dangerous. Thank you, Dr. Amen for trying to keep the public healthy!

    Comment by Vivian Johnson — June 19, 2020 @ 10:07 AM

  29. One Year No Bear (oneyearnobeer.com) have an excellent program to support those who want to quit. Highly recommended.

    Comment by Leonie — June 19, 2020 @ 12:15 PM

  30. You guys are amazing, I was introduced to Dr. Daniel Amen and the Amen clinics via Jay Shetty’s podcast with him and following him, and his wife’s work has had a major impact on changing my perspective. I began my mental health struggle a little over a year ago and I would love to be scanned for a SPECT and see a professional within your clinics. However, I live in Canada. How could we go about this?

    Comment by Ravneet Grewal — June 19, 2020 @ 8:42 PM

  31. Hello Ravneet, thank you for reaching out. We’d be happy to contact you directly with more information on a SPECT scan and an evaluation. Currently, we have 8 clinics in the U.S.: https://amenclinics.com/locations/.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — June 22, 2020 @ 7:57 AM

  32. Alcohol consumption is bad no matter the quantity. It’s been a factor for all the situations Dr. Amen mentioned. Alcohol addiction is one of the terrible things that can happen to anyone. Why some people needs more research presented since we have amount of data backing up this concept. Denial is a great excuse for people to keep drinking who wants more studies. This message is for your own well being and it’s up to you. First recognize you want to keep drinking in spite of the warnings.
    I read and heard alcohol is bad for a long time. Nothing new. Thank you Dr. Amen

    Comment by Flor de Maria Goldston — February 18, 2022 @ 8:22 AM

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