Is it ok to drink wine if you have a drinking problem?
I have a co-worker who was recently diagnosed with diabetes. This means he has had to change a lot of things, including his diet. When someone brought donuts into the office he said, “I can’t have that, it’s like rat poison to me!”
That pretty much sums up the response when someone says it is ok for someone with an alcohol problem to have a glass of wine each day.
The assertion usually comes with a claim that wine is good for you. Most people will claim that studies show that a glass of wine each day is healthy, with all sorts of benefits for the heart and stress reduction.
Is it true?
The short answer is a qualified yes. Studies have supported the health benefits of low levels of wine intake. The Mayo Clinic reports that wine, especially red wine, when used in moderation appears to help the heart. However, the Harvard Medical School reports that studies have not been able to separate the effects of specific alcohol choices from overall drinking patterns. The research is still unclear regarding the difference between wine and other alcoholic drinks. The Mayo Clinic and the American Heart Association both recommend that, if you currently do not drink alcohol, that you do not begin drinking wine for its reported health benefits.
So, I can drink wine, right?
Well, it depends.
Wine, for most people, is ok. But, like sugar to the diabetic, it is not ok for others. Simply put, alcohol, in any form, is dangerous for an alcoholic. The criteria for alcohol use disorder, commonly referred to as alcoholism, is based on years of research. It includes behavior that reflects difficulty controlling alcohol intake. Examples include alcohol being used in greater amounts or for longer than intended. It is the difficulty in maintaining control of alcohol use that leads to an emphasis on abstinence. In plain language, alcoholism by its nature makes control of alcohol use difficult. It is not easy to justify a return to drinking, regardless of how well intentioned.
Let’s look at the usual counter-argument that follows. Ok, wine is not good for alcoholics. But I am not an alcoholic. The bad news is that, according to the 2019 U.S. National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 85 percent of people ages 18 or older in the reported that they drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime, 55 percent reported that they drank in the past month, and 6 percent reported that they engaged in heavy alcohol use in the past month. The reality is this, the only truly risk-free option is abstinence. Any other level of drinking, no matter how low, comes with some level of risk. That is an unavoidable fact.
Moderate drinking is not risk-free.
We have to understand that moderate drinking still comes with risk, especially for the alcoholic. I encourage you to read about the tragic life of Audrey Kishline, the founder of Moderation Management. She struggled with alcohol use and, after establishing Moderation Management, experienced a disastrous relapse that resulted in the death of a 12-year-old girl and her father in vehicle accident. Her story is a cautionary tale for all of us.
So, is it ok to drink wine or not?
It depends on what your relationship with alcohol is. There is no particular safety in drinking wine over drinking any other form of alcohol. The choice is up to each of us individually, but you must be brutally honest with yourself. If you are using wine as a substitute, are using it to avoid more closely examining your relationship with alcohol, or you are using it avoid more deeply changing your behavior, then it is probably a doubtful approach.
However, if you do not currently have a dangerous relationship with alcohol and drink within low-risk guidelines (women – no more than 3 drinks a day and no more than 7 drinks in a week; men - no more than 4 drinks a day and no more than 14 drinks in a week), then it is probably ok to proceed with caution.
For more insights see my books and blog at https://www.jamesmcginley.com.
For more about self-assessment of alcohol use, see my book, Alcohol Abuse Resistance Training for Expatriates: A Self-care Guide for Assessing Risk and Building Resiliency.
James McGinley, PhD is a professor, author, certified life coach, and licensed counselor. He is interested in cross-cultural and applied psychology, whether at work, as a part of a team, in our personal lives and in our relationships with others, or when we face adversity in life – whether from stress, addiction, or exposure to crisis.