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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > Jan/Feb 2019 > Drinking is (probably) bad for us. Should we stop?

Drinking is (probably) bad for us. Should we stop?

There is no safe level of drinking, according to a major new study. But who’s to say the very small risks of moderate drinking aren’t worth it?

It is the season of the handbrake turn: December for drink and indulgence; January for dry resolution. Ever-more health conscious, ever-tempted to treat ourselves, we spin from “what-the-heck” to self-discipline, caught between thoughts of pleasure and harm, never clear where the balance lies.

These feelings are shared even by Sally Davies, the nation’s Chief Medical Officer. She freely admits to enjoying a glass of wine, and yet says that every time she has an alcoholic drink she thinks “cancer.”

None of which is helped by the fact that the story of what’s known about the effects of drinking is disputed. Not at the higher end, of course. In quantity, there’s never been much doubt: it’s bad for you.

It’s at the lower end that arguments rage. And here, the story is still unfolding, but perhaps towards a kind of resolution. A word of warning: before we reach that resolution, things will get murkier. All this means that the next chapter could be the most intriguing of all, partly for what it tells us about the merciless difficulty of finding out the truth about everyday behaviours of all kinds, but above all for what it tells us about risk and the way we reckon with it.

On the gloomy side of the argument, there’s the expert advice to the recently-revised UK guidelines. This included the line: “There is no level of regular drinking that can be considered as completely safe,” a line we’d grown used to about smoking, but not about booze. The phrase “no safe level” made it into the guidelines only in relation to cancer and (controversially) for pregnant women. But that was enough, and, in the media at least, the phrase stuck.

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About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect’s January/February double issue: A host of writers and personalities explain what they think will be the most important thing we need to learn in the new year. From Justin Welby arguing for new emphasis on learning to forgive and Lord Neuberger on the importance of a free judiciary to Hannah Fry on AI and Cathy Newman on what happens next for #MeToo—Prospect has it all. Elsewhere in the issue: Fintan O’Toole looks at Brexit from an Irish perspective, Wendell Steavenson dishes the dirt on what really happens to the waste you want to recycle, Frank Close questions why—half a century after our last visit—we’ve not been back to the Moon. Also, Michael Blastland argues that we’re ignoring the upsides of having an alcoholic drink and Clive James explores the life of Philip Larkin.