“Eat, drink, and be merry,” so the saying goes. But according to a new study, when it comes to alcohol consumption, you’re unlikely to be merry for long.
Study leader Dr. Ben Bamburg Geiger, from the University of Kent in the United Kingdom, found that while drinking alcohol makes us momentarily happy, it fails to offer long-term life satisfaction and well-being.
The researchers recently published their findings in the journal Social Science & Medicine.
It is no surprise that alcohol use is associated with reduced well-being. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), alcohol use is the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the United States, responsible for around 88,000 deaths each year.
Dr. Bamburg Geiger and colleagues note, however, that drinking alcohol is also deemed a source of pleasure. Many of us enjoy a drink after a hard day’s work, for example, or when socializing with friends.
But does having a drink or two really make us happy? This is what the team wanted to find out.
To reach their findings, Dr. Bamburg Geiger and colleagues analyzed data from the British Cohort 1970 Study (BCS70), alongside data gathered from a smartphone application.
The cohort study involved 17,000 babies born in a single week in 1970, who were regularly assessed between the ages of 30-42.
The alcohol consumption of participants was assessed using the question: “In the last 7 days, that is not counting today but starting from last [day], how much [drink] have you had?”
The question was adjusted to account for beer, wine, spirits, fortified wines, and alcopops.
Subjects’ life satisfaction was monitored through a questionnaire that asked them to rate how satisfied they are with their life so far on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being “completely dissatisfied.”
For the smartphone-based assessment, the team analyzed data gathered from an iPhone application called “Mappiness,” which forms part of a project from the London School of Economics.
The app “beeps” anonymous users randomly twice a day – between the hours of 8 am and 10 pm – and asks them how happy they are in that exact moment, as well as who they are with and what they are doing; drinking alcohol is one of the options available for selection.
The researchers assessed the responses of more than 31,000 users from the U.K. between 2010-2013.
From their analysis of the cohort data, the researchers found there was “no significant relationship” between changing drinking levels over time and life satisfaction.
Among people who developed drinking problems, however, the team identified a reduction in life satisfaction.
From the smartphone-based analysis, the researchers found that people who consume alcohol are largely happier “in the moment,” but over time, their happiness fades.
The team says both analyses accounted for participant illness and other factors that may influence the link between alcohol and happiness.
The researchers say their findings are unable to make definitive conclusions about how alcohol consumption impacts happiness.
However, they say the results provide evidence on how alcohol use may positively and negatively impact well-being – something they believe has not been considered by governments when putting together alcohol regulation policies.
The authors add:
“Simple accounts of the well-being impacts of alcohol policies are therefore likely to be misleading. Policymakers must consider the complexity of different policy impacts on different conceptions of ‘well-being,’ over different time periods, and among different types of drinkers.”
The team hopes the findings encourage further research into the link between alcohol use and happiness and well-being, as a means to better informing alcohol policies.