As a society, we sure do like a tipple. Government figures estimate nearly 87 percent of Americans will drink alcohol at some point in their lifetime, with 70 percent enjoying at least one drink a year. In England, around 69 percent of men drink at least once a week. It’s easy to see why. A couple of beers make you more relaxed, more sociable, and better-looking to the opposite sex. What’s not to love?

Well, it’s not quite so simple as that. While we all know the dangers of alcoholism, it turns out alcohol may be far more harmful than most of us realize, maybe even more so than any illegal drug. We’d never go so far as to argue for prohibition, but once you look at the data, getting horrendously drunk starts to look less like an amusing diversion, and more like a portal to your nightmares.

1Most Important Factor In Ruining Life Happiness

You should know it’s one of the longest-running sociological studies in the world. Starting in 1938, researchers at Harvard tracked the lives of 200 men and reported on their emotional and physical well-being. Over the years, findings have included that intelligence (above a certain level) has no influence on earnings and that older liberals tend to have way more sex. They’ve also revealed that one thing above all else can destroy your happiness utterly: alcohol.

In the 2012 update to the study, Triumphs of Experience, study director George Vaillant revealed that alcohol was one of the key factors in participants’ life outcomes. More so than intelligence, more so than political leanings or how rich their parents were, alcohol was the top decider in how subjects’ lives turned out. No matter where they stood on the social spectrum, those who developed drinking problems took mostly the same path: downward. Alcoholism was the main cause of divorce in the study, one of the main triggers for neurosis and depression (importantly, the alcohol abuse tended to come before the mental problems), and tied with smoking as the single biggest contributor to an early grave. Vaillant called it “a disorder of great destructive power.”

Of course, a similar effect would probably be seen if the men had become drug junkies. But there’s no denying alcohol has other startling effects that reach beyond the murky shadows of addiction.

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