When the results for Obama’s first presidential physical were released this week, there was an upheaval amongst media citing one specific line in the report, “moderation in alcohol intake.” While we could certainly discuss the effects of partisan politics on the interpretation of this line, I believe there is valuable information to be gleaned from the statement. There are numerous studies that have shown moderate alcohol intake to be beneficial for physical health (e.g. red wine for heart health). However, very few studies have explored the impact of moderate alcohol intake on mental health functioning (i.e. relationship with mood and anxiety disorders). What would you expect the results to be? Is it possible that moderate alcohol intake would also be related to positive mental health functioning? Perhaps moderate intake serves as a prophylactic against environmental stressors?
I believe there is also a valuable message regarding professional functioning. Because the purpose of the physical is to examine if President Obama is “fit for office,” I think the chief white house physician is communicating to President Obama and the rest of America that excessive alcohol intake can be an impairment to professional functioning. While we can easily draw a connection between excessive alcohol intake and professional impairment (this is a definition of substance abuse), confronting colleagues about this issue can be drastically more difficult. A survey amongst counseling psychologists revealed that while 43% reported knowledge of a colleagues substance use problem, most would not confront their colleague about the issue. How do you think you would handle a colleague’s drinking problem. What would you do if you were struggling with substance use issues?