Alcohol / Addiction / Illegal Drugs Public Health

For health reasons, moderate alcohol intake is not recommended

Is moderate alcohol consumption associated with a lower risk of death?
Is moderate alcohol consumption associated with a lower risk of death?
  • Previous research linking moderate alcohol use to health advantages and a longer life span has been debunked by a new study.
  • The researchers discovered that people who do not drink alcohol may have a greater death rate as a result of dangerous behaviors they participated in early in life.
  • The research also found that persons who don’t drink alcohol and don’t have any other risk factors like smoking or poor self-reported health aren’t statistically more likely to die young than those who drink moderately.

Some recent research has shown a relationship between moderate alcohol use and health advantages, such as a decreased chance of developing cardiovascular disease. Other research has shown that consuming wine and tequila may be beneficial to one’s health.

The findings of recent research from the University of Greifswald in Germany, on the other hand, run counter to the notion that consuming alcohol is beneficial to one’s health.

Studies have shown that people who abstain from alcohol have a higher mortality risk than those who drink low to moderate quantities of alcohol, according to previous findings. The authors of a new study, on the other hand, attribute this to dangerous behaviors that individuals who abstain from alcohol participated in earlier in their lives, according to the authors.

The findings of the research were published in the journal PLOS Medicine.

Alcohol and health

It is estimated that in 2019, 85.6 percent of adults in the United States who were 18 years or older indicated that they had drunk an alcoholic beverage at some point in their lives, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), 14.5 million persons in the United States aged 12 and older are affected by alcohol use disorder (AUD). According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol use disorder (AUD) is “defined by a diminished capacity to cease or manage alcohol use despite unfavorable social, vocational, or health effects.”

Additionally, according to the NIAAA, around 95,000 individuals die each year in the United States as a result of alcohol-related causes. As a result, alcohol is now the third most avoidable cause of mortality in the United States.

According to previous study, persons who take alcohol in moderation have longer lives than those who do not consume alcohol at all. Men who consume moderate quantities of alcohol had a longer life expectancy than men who drink just infrequently or heavily, according to the findings of another older research.

Prof. Dr. Ulrich John and his colleagues feel that their study demonstrates that individuals who do not consume alcohol have a shorter life expectancy than those who do. They believe that this is due to other high-risk variables such as smoking.

This is in direct opposition to the notion that ingesting low to moderate quantities of alcohol has health-promoting effects.

“It is a problem […] that medical students and patients are given the advice that it might [improve] health if they drink low to moderate amounts of alcohol,” Dr. John told Medical News Today.

“For many years, epidemiological statistics seemed to indicate that low-to-moderate alcohol drinkers live longer lives than those who do not consume alcohol. This was the scientific foundation for the medical community’s belief that moderate alcohol intake may be beneficial to health, particularly cardiovascular health.”

“Over the course of the past several years, more and more flaws in the previous studies have come to light,” Dr. John added. “So, we tried to prove what kind of subgroups are among the abstainers, subgroups perhaps with risk factors that might explain the seemingly higher likelihood to die early compared with low to moderate drinkers.”

Taking a look at the data

Dr. John and his colleagues reviewed data from a random sample of 4,028 German individuals who had taken part in prior interviews as part of the project, which was conducted in 2012. Interviews based on a standardized AUD identification exam were conducted between 1996 and 1997, and questions from the test were incorporated in the interviews. At the time of the study, the participants ranged in age from 18 to 64 years of age.

It was followed by questions on any dangerous activities that the participants may have participated in earlier in their life, such as:

  • former dependence on alcohol or drugs
  • risky alcohol drinking
  • daily smoking

Aside from that, the participants were asked to rate their general health using categories ranging from bad to outstanding in terms of their overall health.

The researchers discovered that 447 (11.1 percent) of the individuals had not drunk any alcoholic beverages in the 12 months before to the interviews, which took place between 1996 and 1997. Of them, 405 (90.6 percent) had previously consumed alcoholic beverages, and 322 (72.04 percent) had participated in at least one of the dangerous behaviors described.

AUD was experienced by 114 people (35.4 percent) out of the 322 people who had one or more risk factors. In addition, 161 (50 percent) of the participants did not have an alcohol-related risk, although they did smoke on a regular basis.

In addition, Dr. John and his colleagues were able to acquire information on whether or not the participants had died 20 years after the first interviews were conducted.

When the researchers looked at the death rates of the study participants, they discovered that 119 (26.6 percent) of the 447 persons who had abstained from alcohol had died 20 years after the original interview. In addition, 248 (11.26 percent) of the 2,203 individuals who had consumed low to moderate quantities of alcohol in the 12 months before to the interview had died by the time the study was completed 20 years earlier.

The authors discovered, however, that individuals who never drank alcohol and those who refrained from alcohol in the 12 months before to the trial and who did not have any preexisting risk factors did not have a greater likelihood of mortality than those who drank low to moderate quantities of alcohol.

In addition, the study team discovered a clear link between tobacco use and an increased chance of developing an alcohol-related condition. They come to the conclusion that smoking may enhance the use of alcoholic beverages.

Examining the results

Following a thorough review of the findings, Dr. John and his colleagues come to the conclusion that those who abstain from alcohol do not have a greater mortality risk than those who drink low to moderate quantities.

Any reported increase in mortality risk is likely to be attributed to lifestyle characteristics that existed prior to cessation or to tobacco use, rather than abstinence itself.

In his statement, Dr. John added that his results “additionally contribute to the mounting evidence that low to moderate alcohol use should not be encouraged for health reasons.”

MNT also talked with Dr. George Koob, Director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, about the findings and the implications it may have for future recommendations on the use of alcoholic beverages for health reasons.

“There is no evidence to support the recommendation of alcohol use for health advantages,” he stated. “In order to reduce the risk of injury, we suggest that individuals who prefer to drink adhere to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans’ recommendations for moderate consumption, which call for no more than one drink per day for women and two for men.”

“Keep in mind there are still some health risks associated with drinking at moderate levels, including an increase in the risk of breast cancer beginning at one drink per day for women. Decisions about drinking alcohol should be made knowing the risks involved.”

– Dr. George Koob

Moreover, as Dr. John said to MNT, the findings may provide light on how a person’s health might be negatively impacted by previous alcohol use even if they abstain from alcohol later in life:

“Our research is one of the very few that asked for information [about the] prior lives of the abstainers, information that may have been linked to established risk factors for early mortality.” As far as we know, this is the first and maybe only research to incorporate a standardized diagnosis of past alcohol or drug dependency, i.e., a serious health issue that might explain the short time to death.”

Dr. Koob agreed: “Yes, the findings support the fact that chronic excessive alcohol use can take a toll on the body. The good news is that sustained abstinence may have a significant positive impact on an individual’s health and general quality of life.”

What are the next stages in this research’s progression? In response, Dr. John said that “research in the future should address the concern that low to moderate alcohol intake may raise the chance of mortality.” “Even little doses of alcohol may increase the risk of developing female breast cancer or hypertension, both of which are quite serious and widespread health problems in many general populations,” the researchers write.

About the author

Chukwuebuka Martins

Chukwuebuka Martins is a writer, researcher, and health enthusiast who specializes in human physiology. He takes great pleasure in penning informative articles on many aspects of physical wellness, which he then thoroughly enjoys sharing to the general public.