I Told You So! 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.
ALCOHOL, THE BRAIN, AND MENTAL HEALTH
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 ABUSE AND MENTAL HEALTH
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.