Groups where drinking is rare are dying at the highest rates in the United States. Regular moderate drinkers live the longest. We must get the message out: abstinence kills!

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The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, April 27, 2008. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at PsychologyToday.com.

Dying of Thirst

A New York Times article this weekend revealed widening gaps in life expectancy according to income, race, sex, education and geography. All of the demographics associated with declining life expectancy gains are also associated with abstinence from alcohol.

According to the article, researchers "found that life expectancy actually declined in a substantial number of counties." Worst off are poor Southern women, who are the Americans least likely to drink. They can't match the continued health gains among better-off men and women in New England states, the Americans most likely to drink.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, demographics of those 18 and older show that men (62%), whites (60%), and college grads (67%!) are most likely to drink along with, geographically, New Englanders (64%) and urbanites (58%).

At the opposite end of the spectrum, women (48%), African Americans (45%), and those without a high school diploma (36%!), along with those residing in East South Central (42%) and rural regions (48%), are least likely to drink.

Let's review the United Health Foundation's state-by-state compilation, America's Health Rankings. Four of the five healthiest states are among the leaders in precentage of drinkers, starting with the healthiest, Vermont (64%) and including Minnesota (#2 in health, 60% drinkers), New Hampshire (#4, 64%), and Connecticut (#5, 66%).

Likewise, four of the five least healthy states - Mississippi (#50, 38%), Arkansas (#48, 40%), Oklahoma (#47, 41%), and Tennessee (#46, 33%) - are at the low end of the imbibing rankings. In all of the healthiest five states, a majority drinks. In all the unhealthiest states, a minority does. The average percentage of drinkers in the healthiest states is 61 percent, the average in the least healthy, 40 percent.

Epidemiologists have long known that regular moderate drinkers live longer than abstainers. Virtually all accept that alcohol itself (all forms of beverage alcohol) prolongs life. A handful of contrarians argue that it is not alcohol per se that makes people live longer - it is the fact that drinkers eat better, exercise, control their weight, and don't smoke that accounts for their longer lives. But even this minority view is that studious drinkers are the healthiest Amerians overall.

The ratings for percentages of drinkers by states comes from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. I'm confused - it seems as though drinking is the risk factor they are tracking. But this runs counter to the data showing that a higher prevalence of drinkers in a state predicts greater longevity and healthfulness in the state.

People who believe public health admonitions that alcohol is a dangerous substance to be avoided actually suffer the poorest health outcomes. Shouldn't public health agencies be warning about abstinence insetad?

It just shows - you can't always swallow what you are told.

(I toast Ron Roizen's health for pointing these data out to me.)