Sunday, January 24, 2010

Why Nondrinkers May Be More Depressed

Even though I'm only getting around to writing about it now, an article that appeared on Time Magazine's website a few weeks ago caught my attention as it spoke of a study in which it arose that “those who never drink are at significantly higher risk for not only depression but also anxiety disorders, compared with those who consume alcohol regularly.”

As a teetotaller, this article provided me with an opportunity to reflect on my friends’ perpetual goading in the light of this scientific evidence – were they really just worried about my happiness all along?

"People in the top fifth percentile of drinkers had the highest odds for anxiety. But it was abstainers who were at the highest risk for depression — higher even than the heaviest of drinkers."
Abstaining from alcohol is worse than being the heaviest drinker? Christ! That’s pretty bleak, and certainly seems counter-intuitive. Before I decided to repent for a poor life-style choice, I decided I’d better drilling down a little deeper into the article, and sure enough, some equivocation arose.

It turns out that “the abstainers in the study sample were more likely to have illnesses such as osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia”, or “were formerly heavy drinkers” - “It makes sense that they would have more psychological distress than others, but only 14% of the abstainers in the Norway study fit this category.”

"The most powerful explanation seems to be that abstainers have fewer close friends than drinkers, even though they tend to participate more often in organized social activities. Abstainers seem to have a harder time making strong friendship bonds, perhaps because they don't have alcohol to lubricate their social interactions. After all, it's easier to reveal your worst fears and greatest hopes to a potential friend after a Negroni or two."
My reaction to the ‘fewer close friends’? Seems right on the money – it may be the cognitive dissonance speaking, but I’m happy with the number of close friends I have. The statistical probability that I ‘participate more often in organized social activities’ than non-drinkers just seems laughably absurd when viewed from an Irish perspective. What other social activities are there in this country?

The conclusion from the study itself states:
"The risk of case-level anxiety and depression is elevated in individuals with low alcohol consumption compared to those with moderate consumption. Individuals who label themselves as abstainers are at particularly increased risk. This increased risk cannot fully be explained by somatic illness, social activity or 'sick-quitting'."
Curious - it seems that it's hard to peg why abstainers are quite so miserable. This bit makes sense to me, when reflecting on personal experience. It doesn’t happen particularly often, but every now and again my teetotalling ways are exposed to someone at a social function who insists on introducing me to another who shares my disposition. What typically follows is a painful interaction with a person whose personality is fundamentally broken, who is abstaining from alcohol to please their parents / please Jesus / safeguard their chastity, and is trying to piece together a rag-tag band of non-drinking renegades to overthrow the status quo! These people typically strike me as being on the brink of alcoholism.

I’ve casually mentioned that I don’t have the slightest interest in sports, or cars, or homosexual sex, but have never been introduced to another who doesn’t share my disinterest in these topics, why should drinking be any different?

Stupid social encounters aside, I don’t believe that I fall into the mental-health risk category because twice a week I refuse to imbibe expensive beverages that override my motor control, disable my autonomy, coax my bodily effluvia onto the pavement, and convince me that boisterously singing and dancing along to cheesy songs from the 80s is a really compelling proposition.

Remember the last time I butted heads with fellow teetotallers? [and how much more worthwhile it was than this blog entry?]

1 comment:

Jason said...

I suppose, if you're doing something which instinctively you feel is quite stupid (imbibing poison, which I will be doing later), the feeling is assuaged if it's done collectively. So yeah, in that sense many friendships are welded through alcohol.

I'll think of this post later when coaxing my bodily effluvia onto the pavement.