A glass of Scotch whiskey or whisky on the rock

Cocktails are a way of life in Southern culture. Mint Julep, Gin Fizz, Old Fashioned, Lynchburg Lemonade and Georgian-born cocktail recipes like Savannah’s Chatham Artillery Punch and Atlanta’s Scarlett O’Hara are synonymous with “southern comfort” in this part of the country. Coupled with Georgia’s wineries, the explosion of craft beer, moonshine, and bourbon distilleries throughout the state, not to mention close proximity to iconic bourbon distilleries like Tennessee’s Jack Daniels and Uncle Nearest, it is no wonder imbibing is a way of life in Georgia. Atlanta, a food capital of the South boasts James Beard award-winning chefs AND master mixologists who make an art out of crafting the perfect cocktail. Southern culture and cocktails go hand in hand, but sometimes, our love of cocktails, spirits and the like have dire consequences, particularly as it relates to our health.

A survey released in April 2022 by the American Addiction Centers (AAC) found most Americans were willing to carry an additional 11 to 28 pounds in order to continue drinking alcohol. Hawaii and South Dakota had the lowest number with 8 pounds being the most amount of additional weight respondents would be willing to carry in order to drink alcohol while Tennessee (21), Maryland (22), and Rhode Island respondents were willing to accept 28 additional pounds to continue drinking. Overall, Americans were willing to accept 13 extra pounds in order to continue drinking which is where the state of Georgia fell in the survey. Men would be happy to gain 14 pounds while women would be happy with 12 pounds in order to continue drinking.

Not everyone who drinks alcohol overdoes it or is addicted to alcohol. However, just casually drinking can add inches to your waistline and cause other potential health disorders like diabetes, liver disease, stroke, high blood pressure and a number of cancers including breast, mouth, throat, liver, colon, and rectal cancers. Alcohol has also been linked to depression, anxiety, insomnia and other mental health related disorders.

Why are people willing to carry additional weight and negatively impact their overall fitness and health by consuming alcohol? Most people think that “alcohol calories” differ from “regular calories.” The survey reported 53% of respondents believe “alcohol calories” differ from “regular calories” and 46% of respondents believe that alcohol has health benefits despite studies showing otherwise. Most believed wine had the greatest benefits (89%) while 7% thought spirits have the greatest health benefits followed by 4% who believe beer has the most health benefits. Out of those folks, 15% believe craft beers have fewer calories than “regular” beer. Finally, 58% admitted they don’t even notice studies that link alcohol consumption to health issues.

So, what are Georgians to do?

“It’s not just Southern culture. Alcohol consumption is up across the board especially among women in the pandemic, says obesity researcher Dr. Rochelle Brown who resides in Kentucky. “There are lots of articles celebrating ‘Mommy juice,’ and reality television shows in which women are drinking large goblets of wine and obviously inebriated,” adds Brown who believes alcohol consumption is a part of American culture. 

“People need to be more educated about alcohol, pay more attention to their consumption and make better choices,” says Brown. “There is a reason there are recommendations for alcohol consumption. People need to understand not all alcohol is created the same.” For example, she said, beer has a lot of carbohydrates and that gets converted to sugar which can cause you to gain weight. “That’s why people have beer bellies,” Brown says. “One of the common things I saw in my practice was white men who came in with high blood pressure. Most of the time, the high blood pressure was because of alcohol intake.”

The Centers for Disease Control recommends adults of legal drinking age drink in moderation by limiting intake to 2 drinks or less in a day for men or 1 drink or less in a day for women on days when alcohol is consumed “to reduce the risk of alcohol-related harms.” The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans does not recommend individuals who currently do not drink alcohol start drinking for any reason.

Despite this information, the AAC survey tells us that people are willing to carry extra weight to enjoy alcoholic beverages. For people who aren’t willing to give up alcohol in order to improve health outcomes including carrying extra pounds, Brown has some suggestions.

“People need to pay more attention to calories from alcohol. There are genetic differences in how we metabolize alcohol, which is why trying to keep up with your friends at the party is not a good idea. Know your limits. If watching your calories is what you’re trying to do, then knowing the recommendations for alcohol consumption and using a calorie counting app is a good way to do it.”

If you’re carrying an additional 10 pounds or more of weight which are contributing to other health issues, then consider giving up alcohol altogether and giving yourself a better chance at improved health outcomes in the process.