It’s not much of a surprise that wine sales are up as people shelter in home. But if people are drinking more, is it for healthful reasons? It is an especially tricky question for those who live alone; drinking solo, we have long been told, is a potential sign of alcoholism. Sure, you can do happy hour on Zoom but it just isn’t the same as sharing a bottle with friends. It is at least a form of shared conviviality. There are plenty of studies demonstrating the health benefits of communal drinking, but we shouldn’t despair if that isn’t an option.
Is drinking by yourself bad?
There is some evidence that social drinking may actually lead to drinking more, though it is a difficult thing to measure. An addiction center in Switzerland reported a study several years ago looking at solitary vs. social drinking in a controlled experimental setting. The subjects participated in wine-tasting sessions either alone or in a group, and then repeated the event a few weeks later but reversing the order; solo drinkers were put in a group and vice-versa. The researchers found that consumption was higher in the individual setting compared to the group, but only if they participated in the group session beforehand. Subjects who did the individual session first consumed less than those who did the group tasting first. The context of social drinking therefore created a higher normative level of consumption.
Of course most of us have established habits and preferences, and it may or may not be social isolation that drives us to drink more. It may not be such a bad thing either. Here’s what I suggest: Think of wine as a food, make it part of your evening meal. Make a point to enjoy wine for its aesthetic benefits more than its anesthetic properties. De-stress with your glass or two of wine by turning off the news and social media channels for a little while. Each of these things will amplify the health benefits of wine, and you’ll enjoy it more.