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Why Do Heavy Drinkers Outlive Nondrinkers?

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NB: I just spent a month watching a good friend fighting for her life as a result of alcohol-induced liver failure. Alcohol can kill you, either by overdose (e.g., John Bonham) or by destroying your organs through years of heavy consumption.

http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2014332,00.html

Why Do Heavy Drinkers Outlive Nondrinkers?

Correction Appended: Aug. 31, 2010

One of the most contentious issues in the vast literature about alcohol consumption has been the consistent finding that those who don't drink tend to die sooner than those who do. The standard Alcoholics Anonymous explanation for this finding is that many of those who show up as abstainers in such research are actually former hard-core drunks who had already incurred health problems associated with drinking.

But a new paper in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research suggests that — for reasons that aren't entirely clear — abstaining from alcohol does tend to increase one's risk of dying, even when you exclude former problem drinkers. The most shocking part? Abstainers' mortality rates are higher than those of heavy drinkers. (See pictures of booze under a microscope.)

Moderate drinking, which is defined as one to three drinks per day, is associated with the lowest mortality rates in alcohol studies. Moderate alcohol use (especially when the beverage of choice is red wine) is thought to improve heart health, circulation and sociability, which can be important because people who are isolated don't have as many family members and friends who can notice and help treat health problems.

But why would abstaining from alcohol lead to a shorter life? It's true that those who abstain from alcohol tend to be from lower socioeconomic classes, since drinking can be expensive. And people of lower socioeconomic status have more life stressors — job and child-care worries that might not only keep them from the bottle but also cause stress-related illnesses over long periods. (They also don't get the stress-reducing benefits of a drink or two after work.)

But even after controlling for nearly all imaginable variables — socioeconomic status, level of physical activity, number of close friends, quality of social support and so on — the researchers (a six-member team led by psychologist Charles Holahan of the University of Texas at Austin) found that over a 20-year period, mortality rates were highest for those who were not current drinkers, regardless of whether they used to be alcoholics, second highest for heavy drinkers and lowest for moderate drinkers. (Watch TIME's Video "Taste Test: Beer with Extra Buzz.")

The sample of those who were studied included individuals between ages 55 and 65 who had had any kind of outpatient care in the previous three years. The 1,824 participants were followed for 20 years. One drawback of the sample: a disproportionate number, 63%, were men. Just over 69% of the abstainers died during the 20 years, 60% of the heavy drinkers died and only 41% of moderate drinkers died.

These are remarkable statistics. Even though heavy drinking is associated with higher risk for cirrhosis and several types of cancer (particularly cancers in the mouth and esophagus), heavy drinkers are less likely to die than don't drink, even if they never had a problem with alcohol. One important reason is that alcohol lubricates so many social interactions, and social interactions are vital for maintaining mental and physical health. As I pointed out last year, nondrinkers show greater signs of depression than those who allow themselves to join the party.

The authors of the new paper are careful to note that even if drinking is associated with longer life, it can be dangerous: it can impair your memory severely and it can lead to nonlethal falls and other mishaps (like, say, cheating on your spouse in a drunken haze) that can screw up your life. There's also the dependency issue: if you become addicted to alcohol, you may spend a long time trying to get off the bottle. (Comment on this story.)

That said, the new study provides the strongest evidence yet that moderate drinking is not only fun but good for you. So make mine a double.

The original version of this article misidentified abstainers (people in the study who were not current drinkers, regardless of their past drinking status) as people who had never drunk. The article has been edited to reflect the correction.

See the top 10 long-forgotten liquors.

See "Why Nondrinkers May Be More Depressed."

Read more: http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2014332,00.html#ixzz0yZzK7aAC

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How old is your friend? Doesn't seem to have an age preference when it starts to run people down but from what I've read most alcoholics start to experience alcohol related heath issues in their 3rd decade of abuse. Also read women are more susceptible than men but who knows. As odd as it sounds I've never known anyone that actually died from alcoholism, and I've known some ragers.

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She's 46 now. There are a lot of factors involved. One is diet. A strict diet of Vodka and orange juice doesn't do the body a lot of good. I haven't personally known anybody who did themselves in with booze, but I know of a lot of people who have done it.

The prognosis for my friend looks pretty bad. As soon as she got out of the hospital, she pulled a vanishing act. I finally located her, and she is back with the same old crowd.

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I've heard of that before. They end up sick enough to be hospitalized, get pumped full of vitamins, spin dry is what I've hear it referred to, then bam back on the juice. I know a lot of reformed alcoholics, honestly I've never met one that was harcore before they stopped using. In my experience the extreme cases rarely stop. I drink a fair share myself, twice a week anyway, it's amazing how alluring something so nasty is. I know I'll feel like crap for a few days but it never stops me from tossing back an 8 pack of Guiness pints. Off topic a bit but I just had a blood test for a possible gallbladder issue, I've been surprised the MD hasn't called to say put the Guiness away.

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She's 46 now. There are a lot of factors involved. One is diet. A strict diet of Vodka and orange juice doesn't do the body a lot of good. I haven't personally known anybody who did themselves in with booze, but I know of a lot of people who have done it.

The prognosis for my friend looks pretty bad. As soon as she got out of the hospital, she pulled a vanishing act. I finally located her, and she is back with the same old crowd.

lost a guitar player (one of the best i've ever played with) to the same thing. He was only 50 and his liver just exploded. He was a big dude and before he started his downhill slide he was well over 200 lbs. By the end he was down to about 150 and yellow as a canary. Makes me sad thinking about it. :(

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I am confident that this kind of behavior is almost always an escape from a broken heart of one kind or another. They need love, but are too wrapped around the axle to find love, self-love or from others. Some people think a broken heart is just a passing faze. That's not a broken heart. A broken heat is one that doesn't work right, for whatever reason.

This kind of person needs someone to care about them. Not in the clinical sense of professional detachment, but in the real sense of an emotional bond. That's a dangerous connection for the other person. When we care about someone who is destroying them self, it hurts. Real bad. :(

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Alcohol is a curse on humankind.

Not the best translation, but this will do:

http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Poetic_Edda/H%C3%A1vam%C3%A1l

[11] A better burden | may no man bear

For wanderings wide than wisdom;

Worse food for the journey | he brings not afield

Than an over-drinking of ale.

[12] Less good there lies | than most believe

In ale for mortal men;

For the more he drinks | the less does man

Of his mind the mastery hold.

[13] Over beer the bird | of forgetfulness broods,

And steals the minds of men;

With the heron's feathers | fettered I lay

And in Gunnloth's house was held.

[14] Drunk I was, | I was dead-drunk,

When with Fjalar wise I was;

'Tis the best of drinking | if back one brings

His wisdom with him home.

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A humorous one:

When we drink we get drunk

When we get drunk we fall asleep

When we fall asleep we don't sin

When we don't sin we go to heaven

So let's all get drunk and go to heaven

B)

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I have a theory on this. Perhaps the complete abstainers are disproportionately people with other health problems or simply weak and sickly. I can also see where a few beers a day might have some medicinal value. I've had kidney stones in the past. The doctor told me to drink a beer a day to keep my kidneys active.

I'd like to see stats comparing, say, Mormons and, say, Irish. Their diet and such would probably be comparable, but observant Mormons don't drink.

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So much of it has to do with self medication, a lot of alcoholics suffer from anxiety and depression. For some it's the only way to curb it since the medications often had adverse affects, makes people "crazier" than they already are. I had a friend who was 12 years sober at one point and he told me nearly every one of the alcoholics he sponsered were on some type of anti-depressant. This is all relatively new medicine, was I was a kid afflictions like anxiety and depression were just starting to get noticed as real problems.

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I've heard of that before. They end up sick enough to be hospitalized, get pumped full of vitamins, spin dry is what I've hear it referred to, then bam back on the juice. I know a lot of reformed alcoholics, honestly I've never met one that was harcore before they stopped using. In my experience the extreme cases rarely stop. I drink a fair share myself, twice a week anyway, it's amazing how alluring something so nasty is. I know I'll feel like crap for a few days but it never stops me from tossing back an 8 pack of Guiness pints. Off topic a bit but I just had a blood test for a possible gallbladder issue, I've been surprised the MD hasn't called to say put the Guiness away.

If it turns out you need your gaulbladder out its really a pretty routiine procedure and not alot to fear. You would come out of it fine,. As for drinking, its a very grey area sometimes defining a true alchoholic from a binge drinker, or a drinker who drinks everry day and can still control it very well. There can be both psychological and physical addiction. I have seen people drink very heavily and smoke like chimneys and live well into their eighties. Sometimes I think once one has gotten to this point and they are older, it could actually be more of a shock to their system to stop than to continue. Once the damage is done, it is probably irreversable So then going into detox and withdrawal can even worsen an already out of hand situation.

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Heavy drinking killed my brother in laws wife. She had demons she just couldn't shake and drank way too much. Her kidneys and organs finally gave up when she was in her mid 40's. When she was sober she was very nice to be around but an angry drinker and like to pick fights.

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