2 Ways Responsible Alcohol Use Can Improve Well-Being

Many champion alcohol as a symbol of affluence and calm, but its real-world effects are multifaceted and complex.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | October 4, 2023

Alcohol's impact on society is two-fold: while it's celebrated as a symbol of good times by pop culture, the harsh reality is that it claims nearly 100,000 American lives annually. With an influx of 4.9 million new users each year, concerns grow about the associated death toll. Yet, amid the health risks and warnings, there are those who believe in its benefits to well-being. These are typically the moderate users who tread carefully, fully cognizant of alcohol's potential dangers and committed to responsible use.

Moderate use, however, is a tricky subject. The World Health Organization used to define "moderate use" as up to one standard drink per day for women and up to two standard drinks for men. Today, the Organization isn't so sure there is a level of alcohol that is safe for the human body. The lines become further blurred when genetics come into play.

A large-scale 2019 study published in Nature Communications revealed that genetic variations significantly influence how people process and respond to alcohol. There are individuals with genetic markers that heighten their susceptibility to alcohol dependency, irrespective of whether their drinking habits fit within the "moderate" criteria set by global health standards. A 17-year longitudinal study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University and published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence found that people (particularly women) who used alcohol alone were at a higher risk for developing alcohol use disorder.

For this genetically or socially predisposed segment of the population, the conventional standards of moderation might prove risky. For them, the risk of addiction, be it physical or psychological, looms larger, drawing them closer to the perilous side of alcohol. This emphasizes the importance of delving deeper into one's genetic makeup and personal history with alcohol to determine safe consumption limits.

That being said, for those who can regulate their alcohol consumption, the substance can offer mental health benefits. Here are two of the most compelling benefits backed by research.

1. Alcohol's Role As An Enhancer Of Social Bonding Is Undeniable

There's something about clinking glasses that seems to draw people closer. For many, sharing a drink becomes more than just an activity—it's a ritual of camaraderie, friendship and even love. How often have we heard stories of old friends reconnecting over a drink or business deals being sealed at the bar?

This isn't just anecdotal. A 2022 paper published in Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior corroborates this sentiment. Research revealed that alcohol, in social contexts, can amplify emotional experiences. People reported enhanced social bonding, better relationship dynamics and a keener sense of humor when consuming alcohol in moderation.

However, balance remains key. Drinking should never be the sole driver of sociability. While it can foster connections, genuine bonds are built on trust, mutual respect and shared experiences beyond just the beverage in hand.

2. Appreciation Of Alcohol Can Be A Legitimate Hobby

Hobbies enrich our lives in countless ways. They provide an escape from daily stressors, allow us to express our creativity and offer opportunities for social interaction. A 2015 study in BMC Public Health explored the link between artistic pursuits and mental well-being. The findings suggested that people dedicating around two hours or more per week to artistic activities, equating to over 100 hours annually, experienced notably enhanced mental health outcomes compared to their less engaged counterparts. This sheds light on the potential benefits of artistic endeavors as a means to bolster mental wellness.

Among these varied interests, the appreciation of alcohol, when approached mindfully, can be a legitimate and fulfilling art and hobby. For many connoisseurs, alcohol isn't merely about consumption—it's about savoring the experience.

Wine tasting, for instance, isn't just about drinking; it's a deep dive into understanding the complexities, aromas and history of different vintages. Likewise, the craft of brewing beer or distilling spirits requires a keen sense of taste, knowledge and passion. This appreciation is akin to the pleasure derived from understanding a piece of art or music. It's about delving into the nuances, traditions and stories that each bottle holds.

By focusing on the sensory aspects of alcohol, individuals can find relaxation, joy and even a sense of purpose. Yet, as with any hobby, balance and intentionality are crucial. The goal isn't to consume but to appreciate. When approached from this perspective, alcohol becomes more than just a beverage. It evolves into an experience and a hobby that adds depth and richness to life.


The relationship between alcohol and well-being remains intricate. While alcohol fosters social connections and can be a genuine artistic passion, its physical effects are still debated. The recent stance of the World Health Organization challenges the once-held belief that moderate drinking can boost cardiovascular health, casting a shadow on its supposed antioxidant benefits. As with many aspects of health and lifestyle, the key lies in personal responsibility, understanding and moderation. Alcohol's place in our lives should be defined by informed choices and a quest for balance, ensuring both mental and physical well-being.