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Is Whiskey Good for You?

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Small amounts of whiskey have been shown to possibly have some health benefits, including reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. Some research suggests it can also help prevent cancer and other diseases.11

Because whiskey is an alcoholic beverage, moderate drinking is the safest way to consume it. Drinking too much whiskey can lead to health problems, so drinking responsibly is important.

4 Possible Health Benefits of Whiskey

Moderate drinkers enjoy several potential health benefits when they drink whiskey. For example:

1. Heart Health

Whiskey contains high levels of polyphenols. Polyphenols are plant-based antioxidants that may reduce the risk of heart disease.1

Whiskey also contains ellagic acid, a naturally occurring tannin. Some studies have shown that ellagic acid might lower cholesterol and decrease lipid peroxidation (cell damage) in people with metabolic syndrome.2

2. Cancer Prevention 

Some people believe the alcohol in whiskey has anticancer properties.

One theory is that the ethanol in whiskey can help kill cancer cells. Ethanol is thought to have anti-cancer properties that make it difficult for cancer cells to grow and divide.3

Another theory is that the antioxidants in whiskey protect cells from damage. Antioxidants are substances that neutralize harmful molecules called free radicals, which contribute to cancer development.

There are many studies that suggest that alcohol is a risk factor for several types of cancer.  Therefore, determining whether alcohol’s antioxidants can reverse alcohol-induced tissue damage requires additional research.4

Studies also show the ellagic acid content in whiskey may offer antiviral, antibacterial, antioxidant, and cancer-preventive properties.2

Overall, though, current research shows alcohol consumption increases the risk of cancer.5 

3. Relaxation

Whiskey affects each person differently. Some might find it makes them feel more relaxed, while others might feel it makes them more awake and alert.

Ultimately, relaxation effects, or lack thereof, depend on the person. 

4. Diabetes Prevention

One study showed that alcohol consumption reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes in women.6  

Another study by researchers at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and scientists in the Netherlands showed that middle-aged men who increased their alcohol consumption reduced their risk of developing type 2 diabetes.7

Research shows repeated, occasional, or frequent binge drinking was associated with an increased risk of hypertension and type 2 diabetes.8

Whiskey is also high in calories, so it’s best to avoid it if you’re trying to lose weight. Talk to your doctor about whether or not drinking whiskey could be beneficial for your health. 

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3 Unhealthy Effects of Drinking Whiskey

Moderate whiskey consumption rarely causes serious health problems. However, if you have existing health issues or you consume alcohol in large amounts, it can cause health problems. 

These include:

1. Liver Disease

Whiskey is both a tonic and a toxin. 

Drinking whiskey causes inflammation and damage to liver cells. Over time, this leads to scarring and cirrhosis. If you already have liver damage, alcohol consumption makes it worse.

2. Brain Damage

Alcohol consumption can cause a wide range of negative effects on the brain, including:

  • Impaired cognitive function
  • Damaged nerve cells
  • Problems with memory and learning

One of the most well-known ways excessive alcohol consumption damages the brain is through a condition called wet brain. This is a type of dementia that results from chronic alcohol abuse.

Excessive alcohol consumption can also damage the brain by causing:

  • Sleep problems
  • Increased stroke risk
  • Brain inflammation

3. Addiction

Like with all types of alcohol, there is a risk of whiskey addiction. The more and more often you drink, the higher your risk of addiction is. 

How Much Whiskey is Healthy?

Whiskey is "hard" liquor. A standard serving of whiskey has a higher alcohol content than a standard serving of beer or wine. This means whiskey drinkers get the same effect from drinking less of it than other types of alcohol. 

While there may be potential benefits to drinking whiskey in moderation, heavy drinking is never healthy.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), moderate alcohol consumption equates to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.9

The CDC's guidelines are based on standard drink sizes, which are:

  • 12 ounces of regular beer
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits, including whiskey

Moderate whiskey consumption for women is 1.5 ounces per day. For men, moderate is 3 ounces.

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Is One Type of Whiskey Better Than Another?

Any health benefits from drinking whiskey vary based on the whiskey’s ingredients.

For example, bourbon whiskey comes from a mash of at least 51 percent corn. Corn is a whole grain, and bourbon contains more fiber than other types of whiskey. 

Scotch whisky comes from malted barley. Barley is a whole grain that contains soluble fiber, which can lower cholesterol levels. 

Irish whiskey comes from a mash of fermented barley, rye, wheat, and oats. Like Scotch, Irish whiskey contains ellagic acid and soluble fiber. 

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Whiskey Addiction Treatment

If you or a loved one struggles with a whiskey addiction, treatment may be necessary. There are many treatment options available. The right one for you depends on the severity of your addiction and your unique needs.

In general, treatment for whiskey addiction involves a combination of detoxification, rehabilitation, and ongoing support. 

Programs include:

Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient programs offer the most intense addiction treatment services. You live at the treatment facility during the program. Each day you receive medical care and attend therapy sessions and support groups.

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment programs offer treatment without requiring onsite residence. At the end of the day, participants return to their homes, a different treatment facility, or a sober living facility. 

Outpatient treatment attendees are free to spend time with family, go to work, attend school, and engage in recreational or social activities outside of treatment.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) combines pharmaceuticals, counseling, and behavioral therapies to treat whiskey addiction. 

For many people, MAT is the best option for long-term sobriety. Benefits include:

  • Reduced cravings
  • Managing withdrawal symptoms
  • Preventing relapse

MAT is also effective for treating mental health issues related to substance abuse.

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Updated on September 23, 2022
11 sources cited
  1. Pandey, Kanti Bhooshan, and Syed Ibrahim Rizvi. “Plant Polyphenols as Dietary Antioxidants in Human Health and Disease.” Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, vol. 2, no. 5, 2009, pp. 270–278. 
  2. Ellagic Acid | Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.” qww.mskcc.org. 
  3. Morhard, Robert, et al. “Development of Enhanced Ethanol Ablation as an Alternative to Surgery in Treatment of Superficial Solid Tumors.” Scientific Reports, vol. 7, no. 1, 18 Aug. 2017, p. 8750.  
  4. McDonough, K. “Antioxidant Nutrients and Alcohol.” Toxicology, vol. 189, no. 1-2, 15 July 2003, pp. 89–97.  
  5. Alcohol and Cancer.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019. 
  6. Beulens, J. W.J., et al. “Alcohol Consumption and Type 2 Diabetes: Influence of Genetic Variation in Alcohol Dehydrogenase.” Diabetes, vol. 56, no. 9, 11 June 2007, pp. 2388–2394, 10.2337/db07-0181.  
  7. Boston, 677 Huntington Avenue, and Ma 02115 +1495 1000. “Moderate Alcohol Intake May Decrease Men’s Risk for Type 2 Diabetes.” News, 15 Feb. 2011. 
  8. Choi, Jae Woo, et al. “Risk of Hypertension and Type 2 Diabetes in Relation to Changes in Alcohol Consumption: A Nationwide Cohort Study.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, vol. 19, no. 9, 1 Jan. 2022, p. 4941. 
  9. CDC - Fact Sheets- Moderate Drinking - Alcohol.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019.
  10. Meadows, Gary G, and Hui Zhang. “Effects of Alcohol on Tumor Growth, Metastasis, Immune Response, and Host Survival.” Alcohol Research:Current Reviews, vol. 37, no. 2, 2015, pp. 311–22. 
  11. Duthie, GG, et al. “The Effect of Whisky and Wine Consumption on Total Phenol Content and Antioxidant Capacity of Plasma from Healthy Volunteers.” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, U.S. National Library of Medicine.

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