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Alcohol and Health

Is a Shot of Whiskey a Day Good For You?

June 4, 2024
17 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
June 4, 2024
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
June 4, 2024
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
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Reframe Content Team
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Daily Whiskey Shots Can Do More Harm Than Good

  • While some swear by the benefits of taking a shot of whiskey every day, the reality is that it can harm your liver, increase your risk of dependence, and impede digestion.
  • Exercising and maintaining a heart-healthy lifestyle offers all the benefits whiskey claims without any of the risks. 
  • Establish healthy habits and reduce the risk of dependence with Reframe. Reframe provides the knowledge, tools, and support you need to make informed decisions about alcohol intake. 

Some say “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” and others say the same thing about a shot of whiskey, touting that it will prolong our life and promote heart health. Are the rumors true? Does the science agree?

In this article, you’ll learn how whiskey affects our body and the reality behind the health claims. We’ll also learn the risks and healthier alternatives. So put the whiskey back in the cabinet, grab an apple, and let’s dig in. 

What’s in Whiskey?

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Like all liquors, whiskey is made by fermenting grains (usually barley, rye, corn, or wheat), applying heat to separate the ethanol from the fermented product (distilling), and mixing the distilled alcohol with other flavors to give it a unique flavor profile. 

The distilling process gives whiskey and other liquors their 40% ABV, which means 40% of the liquid is alcohol, and the rest is water and other ingredients. For comparison, beer typically has around 5% ABV, and wine usually has around 12% ABV. This is why we tend to wince a little when we drink whiskey — it burns! This is also what makes it more dangerous than beer and wine. So if it’s painful and dangerous to drink whiskey, why do we do it? Is whiskey good for us?

What Does Whiskey Do to Our Body?

Probably the most prominent reason people drink whiskey is to “take the edge off” a long day or to prepare for a stressful event. It is often popularized in media as “liquid courage,” with characters downing a shot of it before they head into some sort of dramatic confrontation. But is it just a cultural “norm,” or is there science behind it? Let’s find out. 

When we take a shot of whiskey, it immediately enters our bloodstream. As soon as the liver senses danger, it begins processing it, but if too much alcohol arrives too fast (i.e., 40% ABV in one swallow), it creates a backlog.  

When alcohol reaches the brain, it depresses the central nervous system and dilates blood vessels, lowering blood pressure. It also slows down neurotransmitters that relay messages from our brain to the rest of our body. So, if we were feeling tense before drinking, we might notice some immediate relief and relaxation after a swig or two. Sounds like a quick and easy way to de-stress, right? Well, not exactly. As the saying goes, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” 

Myths and Misconceptions

Let’s dig in deeper and unpack some of the myths and misconceptions surrounding whiskey.

Myth #1: A Shot of Whiskey Reduces Stress 

After any initial relaxing effects wear off, we may be more likely to experience a rebound effect of anxiety, irritability, and restlessness. While alcohol has been used for centuries for stress relief, research has not been able to confirm a consistent cause-and-effect relationship. Some people, like those with a family history of alcoholism, may feel its effects more. Furthermore, our environment may play a large role in the stress-relieving effects of alcohol, indicating that alcohol alone is not a cure-all for stress. Plus, alcohol adds stress to the body, especially the liver, making it work harder to eliminate toxins.

Myth #2: A Shot of Whiskey Aids Digestion

Some whiskey companies claim that drinking a shot of whiskey after dinner will help us digest our meal, but research says otherwise. Some say that beer and wine might help stimulate gastric juices that aid digestion, but even if that were true, all those benefits would be lost in the distillation process used to make whiskey. In addition, the amount of alcohol in whiskey can harm the healthy balance of gut bacteria.  

Myth #3: A Shot of Whiskey Improves Heart Health

“A shot a day improves blood flow,” they say. “It improves cholesterol,” they say. Whatever “they” say, more current research suggests that “no amount of alcohol is good for your heart.”

So, the health claims that whiskey proponents make aren’t entirely true. But is a shot of whiskey a day bad for us? Let’s take a closer look at the risks. 

Risks of Drinking Whiskey Every Day

Risks of Drinking Whiskey Every Day

How risky is whiskey? Drinking a shot of whiskey every day can pose several health risks: 

  • Liver damage. The more we drink, the more we run the risk of liver damage, including fatty liver and cirrhosis.  

  • Increased risk of dependence. If we rely on whiskey for stress relief, we risk developing dependence. The risk is even greater if we have a family history of addiction. 

  • Poor sleep patterns. While it may help us wind down and fall asleep, it ultimately decreases sleep quality and disrupts sleeping patterns. 

  • Digestive issues. Alcohol, especially on an empty stomach, can irritate the digestive system and lead to problems such as gastritis and ulcers. 

  • Weakened immune system. Since our gut health is linked to our immune system, regular drinking can also weaken our immune system and make us more susceptible to diseases. 

  • Impaired brain function. Long-term alcohol use can affect cognitive function, leading to problems with memory, decision making, and problem solving. 
  • Heart problems. Alcohol has many effects on our heart and cardiovascular system, from blood pressure fluctuations to atrial fibrillation. 
  • Increased risk of cancer. Alcohol is a known carcinogen. Every shot we take increases our risk of developing cancer in the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, or breast.

There are more than enough risks here to outweigh any potential health benefits. 

Risk Factors for Adverse Whiskey Reactions

Why do some people experience more of these adverse reactions than others? Several risk factors could affect how our body responds to alcohol. 

  • Congeners. Congeners are a byproduct of the fermentation process. Each drink will have different types and amounts of them. Some people are more sensitive to them than others, but either way, they can make hangovers worse. 
  • Genetics. Some of us are genetically predisposed to adverse reactions and intolerance. 
  • Age. Drinking under the age of 21 is much more likely to cause severe physical responses and long-term consequences (not to mention legal troubles in the U.S.). On the flip side, alcohol can also have more harmful effects on our body as we age because our metabolism slows down (among other processes). 
  • Gender. Alcohol affects women more intensely because women tend to weigh less and have less body water than men. 
  • Body size. Gender aside, a large-framed person will be able to handle more alcohol than a small-framed person. 
  • Preexisting conditions. Someone with preexisting conditions such as diabetes, acid reflux, blood pressure issues, or liver problems might have more adverse reactions. 

It’s always best to talk to our doctor if we’re not sure what is safe for us, but understanding these risk factors can help us recognize personal risks and guide our drinking habits. 

How Much Whiskey Is Too Much?

Now that you understand the myths, risks, and risk factors, you may be wondering if any amount of whiskey is safe. How much can you drink before the risks outweigh the benefits? 

No Drinking

No amount is safe for pregnant women, young people under the age of 21, those with heart conditions, or anyone taking medications that could interact with alcohol. It is also not safe for anyone with a history of alcohol use disorder. Breastfeeding women should also avoid alcohol. 

Moderate Drinking

When it comes to drinks with a high ABV, like whiskey, the CDC defines moderate drinking as two shots for men and one shot for women per day, and even that may produce negative long-term outcomes. 

For women, the guideline means if they drink a shot of whiskey every night, any other drink during the day would set them over the recommended amount. For men, that is half the limit. We have to factor in these limits when making other plans that involve drinking.

Heavy Drinking

Heavy drinking dramatically increases our risk of alcohol dependence. The definition of heavy drinking varies between men and women.

  • For women, it’s four or more drinks in a day or eight or more in a week. 
  • For men, it’s five or more drinks in a day or 15 or more in a week.

Drinking a shot of whiskey every night adds to a weekly tally rather quickly and puts us at much greater risk.

Alternatives to Drinking Whiskey for Health

If whiskey is your drink of choice for flavor, you might try exploring mocktails instead. You might also consider these healthier alternatives to whiskey if you’re looking for help with stress and other issues.

  • Stress relief. You don’t need to put anything into your body to relax (with the exception of prescriptions for anxiety). If you’re dealing with a lot of stress, try some alternative coping mechanisms
  • Digestion aid. If you need help with digestion, you’ll have better luck with an apple than whiskey. A high-fiber diet should help get things moving regularly. If you’re going to drink any alcohol for this reason, let it be beer or wine. 
  • Heart health. Instead of reaching for the whiskey bottle, reach for heart-healthy foods such as fruits, veggies, and nuts, and create a plan for regular cardio exercise. 

These will give you all the benefits you seek now and increase your chances of overall better health for years to come. 

A Final Word on Whiskey

While many people rave about its health benefits, research refutes the claims and lists the risks of drinking a shot of whiskey every day. Instead, we can turn to natural, more effective alternatives to improving our overall health. 

Summary FAQs

1. What are the side effects of drinking whiskey every day?

While we might initially feel stress relief from drinking whiskey, and it might help us fall asleep, it will soon disrupt our sleep patterns and leave us feeling more irritable, which makes us want to drink more. This cycle increases our risk of dependence. 

2. What does whiskey do to our body?

Alcohol from whiskey is absorbed into our bloodstream and then sent to our liver, brain, and other organs. It can cause liver damage, depress the central nervous system, and lower blood pressure, which can be particularly concerning for those with blood pressure medications. 

3. Is a shot of whiskey a day good for us?

It might feel good initially, but the risks ultimately outweigh any perceived benefits. 

4. How many shots of whiskey are too many?

For people on medications, pregnant women, young people under 21, and anyone who plans to drive, no amount of whiskey is safe. Otherwise, the recommended daily limit is one shot for women and two shots for men (assuming no other alcohol is involved). 

5. Can drinking a whole bottle of whiskey kill us?

Heavy drinking is considered four shots for women and five for men. A typical bottle of whiskey is the equivalent of 16 shots. Binge drinking can lead to alcohol poisoning, coma, death, or risky behaviors that result in death. 

Develop Healthier Habits With Reframe!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

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The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app today!

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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