"Alcoholic Beverages - Curse or Blessing?" by Allen Weiss, MD, CEO & President

Dr. ALlen Weiss, MD, MBA, FACP, FACR
April 1, 2007 - Collier County at one time was thought to have the second highest per capita consumption of alcohol in the nation. This may have been a falsely elevated figure resulting from the number of vacationers and snowbirds that were NOT included in the year-round population totals, while the amount of alcohol they consumed WAS.

Are alcoholic beverages always bad for you? If not, how much might be good for you? What about people who can’t control their intake? Does one drink per day increase your life expectancy? Do you have a drinking problem? Does alcohol conflict with any medicines you might be taking? All of these questions are germane in determining if alcoholic beverages are good or bad for you.

The “to drink or not to drink” debate has been around for a long time, going all the way back to the Bible. The process of fermentation of sugar, which is used in the production of beer and wine, is ancient. Distillation of spirits which creates hard liquors is slightly more complex. Interestingly, a 4-oz. glass of wine, a 12-oz. bottle of beer and a standard mixed drink all have the same amount of alcohol

The amount of alcohol consumed by adults ranges from “none at all” in 31-58% of the geriatric population, to 3-9% being considered “heavy drinkers”, as defined by the consumption of from twelve to 21 drinks per week. Daily drinkers range from 10- 22%. The recommended upper limit of consumption is no more than seven standard drinks per week with no more than two episodes of binge drinking (four of more drinks in a day) during a three month period. These facts and opinions are referenced in a recent American Society of Geriatrics review.

One cocktail or a glass of red wine per day has been touted as being healthful and/or cardio protective. If one is not a drinker there is no evidence that starting to drink would be beneficial. If one is already a drinker there is some evidence that red wine has a modest beneficial effect on decreasing heart attacks and strokes. The danger of recommending this as therapy is that there are side effects connected to drinking that can be harmful. Further, people who have had problems with excess alcohol consumption might use the suggestion that drinking can have benefits as an excuse to drink more.

Recognizing if you have a problem has been codified with the following four questions which are used by medical professionals as a quick screen:

1. Have you ever tried to Cut down on your drinking?

2. Have you ever gotten Annoyed at someone for criticizing your drinking?

3. Do you ever feel Guilty about your drinking?

4. Have you ever had an Eye-opener to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover?

If you can answer “yes” to any the above, known as the “CAGE” protocol, you may have a problem.

We live in a fast-paced, high-stress society. There is always a temptation to resort to alcohol or drugs as stress relievers. The effects of alcohol on health are paradoxical and call for moderation. Do consult with your physician to discuss what is right for you.



Dr. Allen Weiss is CEO & President of the NCH Healthcare System. He is board certified in Internal Medicine, Rheumatology and Geriatrics, and was in private practice in Naples, Florida from 1977 - 2000. Dr. Weiss is active in a variety of professional organizations and boards, and has been published in numerous medical journals, including the American Journal of Medicine and the Journal of Clinical Investigation.