Having a drink, taking a shot, chugging a brew are familiar synonyms for alcohol consumption. This is neither new nor regional. Humankind the world over has been fermenting beverages for millennia with the oldest verifiable brewery located near Haifa in modern day Israel (1). Whether imbibing baijiu in Shanghai, sake in Tokyo, ouzo in Athens or a stunning variety of wines in the Mediterranean countries, the cultural and geographical blueprint for alcohol use runs deep and broad. France even has wines named after some of its’ most famous regions as any proud denizen of Champagne or Bordeaux will boast.
Today’s spirited debate is not about alcohol abuse. There is an acknowledged acceptance that too much ethanol, the toxic compound in alcoholic drinks, is unhealthy in the best case and potentially lethal in the worst. It is estimated there are nearly 3 million deaths worldwide annually related to alcohol misuse, half of those deaths due to injuries and digestive diseases like cirrhosis of the liver (2).
This article explores the question of whether any alcohol is good for us, or at least non-harmful. For several decades, a popular school of thought was that some alcohol, maybe 1-2 glasses of red wine daily, might be a good source of the antioxidant, resveratrol. This polyphenol found in the skin of red grapes was thought to protect the heart and lower the risk of coronary heart disease. More recent research disputes this claim. It is now more accepted that moderate wine use may be just one indicator of a healthy lifestyle such as good diet, regular physical activity, and psychosocial fitness that provide a framework for promoting longevity.
More recently, the question of whether any alcohol use is healthy or even safe has resurfaced. The American Heart Association tells non-drinkers not to start drinking (3). Guidance published in Canada is more direct declaring the only health benefit from alcohol is to avoid drinking altogether. The same guidelines acknowledge that 2 drinks a week is not risky but that even 3-6 drinks weekly raises the cancer risk. Seven drinks a week begins to adversely impact the risk for stroke and even heart disease, a rejection of the argument that 1-2 drinks a day is good for the heart. Every drink beyond seven per week adds to the more immediate risks associated with alcohol misuse such as injuries, violence and the digestive diseases mentioned earlier (4).
What is the underwriting takeaway? Not much right now. Curious underwriters almost always ask about alcohol use and those applicants having 1-2 drinks a day are not a concern in underwriting. Still, thoughtful underwriters look at the big picture of information in the case file and an elevated liver enzyme or two coupled with a less than stellar driving record may get a second look at the stated alcohol use. We’ll keep an eye on this topic with a glass half-full (or maybe less) perspective.
- History of alcoholic drinks. www.Wikipedia.org. N.D.
- Poznyak, Vladimir and Rekve, Dag. Global status report on alcohol and health 2018. World Health Organization (WHO). September 2018.
- American Heart Association. Is drinking alcohol part of a healthy lifestyle? American Stroke December 30, 2019.
- Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction. Canada’s Guidance on Alcohol and Health: Final Report. ccsa.ca. January 2023.
This article is provided by Know the Risk, an educational website that contains underwriting information for insurance professionals, available exclusively to Advisors affiliated with PPI (login required).