Tradition is tradition, and in the baton handoff that is New Year’s Eve, that means heaps of Champagne. Catalyst of merriment (and questionable diet aid, according to one 1963 Vogue article), it has all the audible pop and palatable fizz to fuel an epic night—and then a foggy morning. Precisely the morning when you plot out a steadier course for the year ahead.
Cue the teetotaler’s resolution, whereby those in search of clearheaded renewal take a break from alcohol. Lately, though, calls to reconsider routine drinking have risen above the usual chatter of wellness goals. In early November, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), a research and advocacy organization that comprises many of the nation’s leading cancer doctors, issued its first statement linking alcohol use to seven types of malignancies, including breast cancer. The headlines raised alarm—and elicited rebuttal articles and skepticism from those exasperated by the good-for-you, bad-for-you volleys when it comes to such research. “There are a lot of people who really want to argue the science with me, and I feel like the science has been settled a long time ago,” says Noelle LoConte, M.D., an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the lead author of the statement, recalling the influx of emails she has received. The Lancet, in an editorial expressing support for ASCO, put it even more bluntly: “Alcohol is an undeniable menace to health,” no matter how entwined it is with the cultural norms of 2 billion people. (Cities are taking that message seriously; just yesterday New York’s MTA instituted a ban on alcohol advertising on subways and buses.)
Dosage, of course, matters. “No cancer doctor is going to tell you that if you binge once in a great while with your friends, that’s forever changed your risk of cancer,” acknowledges LoConte, a gastrointestinal oncologist who treats diseases sometimes associated with alcohol, including liver, esophageal, and colon cancers. “There is an increased risk with even light drinking, but really [those with] the highest risk are heavy long-term drinkers,” she says. But in an era of bottomless Bloody Marys and #RoséAllDay, the benchmark guidelines for women (who, statistically smaller than men, process alcohol at a slower rate) are eye-opening: Eight drinks a week qualifies as “heavy,” while four in one sitting counts as a “binge.” Doing the math—the coworkers happy hour, the birthday brunch, the slow-unfolding dinner party with the pileup of bottles—can be, shall we say, sobering. That’s to say nothing of the other associated risks, such as sexual violence and car accidents, adds LoConte.