A new study suggests that people are momentarily happier when drinking alcohol, but that over longer periods, drinking more does not make them more satisfied with life.
Researchers also found that people who developed drinking problems were less satisfied with life.
For the study, researchers Dr. Ben Baumberg Geiger of the University of Kent’s School of Social Policy, Sociology, and Social Research, and Dr. George MacKerron of the University of Sussex, considered how people’s happiness and drinking change alongside each other over a period of time.
They did this by using an iPhone-based app, as well as a traditional cohort study.
In the first study, iPhone users provided more than two million responses at random moments during the day using the “Mappiness” app, telling the researchers what they were doing, with whom, and how happy they were.
Compared to themselves at other moments, people were four points happier on a zero to 100 scale when drinking, although only a little of this happiness “spilled over” into times that they were not drinking.
The second study tracked 25,000 people born in 1970 at the ages of 30, 34, and 42, and looked at whether they were more satisfied with life overall at times that they drank more or less.
The study’s findings suggested that, after making allowances for other factors such as illness that can affect wellbeing, there was no connection between people’s drinking and their happiness over a period of time.
The exception to this was in situations where alcohol became a problem, leading to reduced feelings of wellbeing, according to the researchers.
Both studies took into account other possible explanations for the relationship between alcohol and happiness, although the researchers conceded that being absolutely sure that alcohol is causing momentary happiness is difficult.
They also acknowledge that those involved in the studies are not representative of the whole population. The first study involved iPhone users, who tend to be young and wealthy, while the second study looked only at 30-42 year olds.
But the study does offer some evidence when policymakers previously had nothing but “pub talk” to rely on, according to the researchers.
They add they hope the research will help policymakers properly take happiness into account when doing cost-benefit analyses of alcohol regulation — and therefore make better, more transparent decisions about which policies will benefit the population and which won’t.
The research, titled “Can alcohol make you happy? A subjective wellbeing approach,” was published in the journal Social Science & Medicine.