That ‘quick’ beer after work may – with blurry hindsight – not have been the best idea, but a study has revealed social drinkers take fewer days off sick than those who are teetotal.
Researchers found that moderate tipplers – unlike the extremes of heavy boozers or those who abstain totally – have the best health.
And they discovered that teetotal people studied in the UK, Finland and France had a higher risk of absence from work for a host of ailments, including mental disorders, problems of the muscles and bones, and illnesses of the stomach and lungs.
The researchers excluded from their results those who had stopped drinking explicitly for the sake of their health, but warned that abstinence could be linked to a number of medical reasons that were included in the study.
Lead author Dr Jenni Ervasti, of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, said: ‘Some diseases, or their treatment, prevent alcohol use, which may explain the excess risks among abstainers.
‘Moreover, participants to whom at-risk drinking causes health problems may retire early or become unemployed. Then the adverse effects are not seen in absence from work due to illness.’
Dr James Doidge, senior research associate at University College London, also warned that the results may not be as clear-cut as they seem. He said: ‘This study showed that people who abstain from alcohol are absent more often than people who consume alcohol in moderation.
‘The most plausible explanation for this is reverse causality: health problems cause people to drink less, and not the other way around.
‘The best evidence we have on the effects of alcohol consumption comes from genetic studies which, sadly, indicate that any level of alcohol consumption increases your risk of health problems.’
The research, published in the journal Addiction, compared women who drank one to 11 units of alcohol a week and men who reported drinking between one and 34 units. NHS advice warns both men and women to keep their drinking below 14 units a week – around six pints of beer or six glasses of wine.
Dr James Nicholls, director of research and policy development at Alcohol Research UK, said: ‘The authors also found that abstainers were more likely to be poor, which is a very significant factor in ill-health. And it doesn’t capture short-term impacts on work, such as absence, or reduced productivity, due to hangovers.
‘While the findings don’t provide evidence that “alcohol is good for you”, they do suggest drinking moderately is not likely to lead to missing work through illness.’