By Norra MacReady
WebMD Health News

July 9, 2019 — For women, quitting drinking may be linked to a significant improvement in mental health, according to a study published online this week in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

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The findings come from a comparison of two groups of people, which together included more than 40,000 people. In both, women who never drank alcohol reported the highest levels of mental well-being, but women who started out as moderate drinkers and quit during the 4-year study period had the greatest improvements in mental health, such that their well-being was close to that of the abstainers.

Mental health also improved among men who quit drinking, but the results were not statistically significant, say study authors Xiaoxin I. Yao, PhD, of the School of Public Health, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, University of Hong Kong, and their colleagues.

The findings add to the growing body of evidence suggesting that moderate drinking may not improve health-related quality of life, co-author Michael Y. Ni, MD, of the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health, said in a news release. “Instead, quitting drinking may be associated with a more favorable change in mental well-being, approaching the level of lifetime abstainers.”

The researchers analyzed data from adults taking part in the FAMILY Cohort study, which analyzes things that contribute to the well-being of citizens in Hong Kong.

To account for cultural differences, the authors also analyzed data from the U.S. National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, which was designed to measure alcohol use disorders and related diseases among adults in the United States.

For the study, the authors defined “moderate drinkers” as women who had seven drinks or fewer per week. “People who reported heavy drinking were excluded because the evidence for adverse impacts of heavy drinking on health-related quality of life is well established,” they explain.

At the beginning, men and women who had never drunk alcohol reported the highest levels of mental well-being, after adjusting for a wide range of variables including sociodemographic characteristics, body mass index, smoking status, self-reported physical health, and physical activity.

But at follow-up, improvement in mental health among women who had quit drinking during the study period was greater than women who were lifetime abstainers.

For people who stop drinking, the benefits may be similar to those experienced by people who quit smoking, who ultimately have health outcomes similar to those who have never smoked, the authors suggest.

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