A sage sour. Apple and rhubarb cooler. Cuddles on the Beach. Do these beverages sound delicious and refreshing? Many would say Yes! And for more reasons than one.
They’re all names for mocktails. That’s a non-alcoholic mixed drink served in a cocktail style without alcoholic ingredients. And the mocktail trend is growing, from mocktail menus at restaurants to stocked grocery store shelves, bars that serve solely mocktails and Instagram influencers devoted to the idea, complete with styled gorgeous glassware.
While the risks and harms associated with drinking alcohol have been long evaluated and well documented, this year The World Health Organization published a strong statement in The Lancet Public Health:
“When it comes to alcohol consumption, there is no safe amount that does not affect health.”
According to the WHO, alcohol is a toxic, psychoactive, and dependence-producing substance classified as a Group 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer decades ago – that’s the highest risk group, which also includes asbestos, radiation and tobacco.
Research shows long-term health risks of alcohol consumption include cardiovascular problems like high blood pressure and heart disease, stroke, cancer, memory and learning troubles, problems with the brain and pancreas, liver disease, anxiety and depression.
The WHO states alcohol causes at least seven types of cancer, including the most common cancer types, such as bowel cancer and female breast cancer. Scientists think ethanol (alcohol) causes cancer through biological mechanisms as the compound breaks down in the body, even in a light to moderate drinker. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, even one drink a day can increase risk.
Dr. Mathew Mazzola is a physician with the Columbia Medical Group, a Lexington Medical Center physician practice. He says he advises his patients to follow drinking guidelines from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
According to the NIAAA, the standard recommendations for the general population are no more than seven drinks per week (and no more than three per occasion) for women, and no more than 14 drinks per week (and no more than four per occasion) for men.
If a patient thinks they have a problem with alcohol, Dr. Mazzola says feel comfortable talking to your primary care physician.
“The first step in treating alcohol use disorder is admitting that you need help. Being transparent and honest with your doctor is the most important aspect of the patient/physician relationship,” he said. “Your doctor can’t help you if they don’t know the entire story.”
Doctors can either prescribe medicine or connect patients with counseling and support groups.
These issues became increasingly clear during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the National Institutes of Health, in 2020, sales of alcohol increased by nearly three percent – the largest annual increase in more than 50 years.
“I saw an increase in all mental health-related conditions throughout the pandemic – including alcohol use disorder,” Dr. Mazzola said. “I believe the increase was likely related to the isolation effect along with heightened anxiety from so many unknowns.”
Statistics also show chronic diseases related to alcohol abuse are seen in a growing number of younger adults.
“It’s very important for our younger patients to be honest and transparent to help us with detection,” he said. “I emphasize the immediate and long-term negative effects.”
And about that notion that a glass of red wine a day is good for the heart? Dr. Mazzola says he never tells patients to drink alcohol because of a potential health benefit.