Consuming more than five alcoholic drinks per week may increase an individual’s risk of an early death, according to the findings of a new study.
Researchers have warned the public for years that drinking in excess is bad for your health. However, a report published this week in the medical journal The Lancet warns that drinking even a handful of drinks per day will shorten your life expectancy.
Researchers analyzed data from nearly 600,000 current drinkers without cardiovascular disease across 19 high-income countries.
They used data from three large-scale studies, including the Emerging Risk Factors Collaboration, EPIC-CVD, and the UK Biobank. They focused on drinking habits dating back as far as 1964, with follow ups for many years afterward. Participants were categorized by how much they drank each week.
Over the course of the study period, there were 40,000 deaths and 39,000 cardiovascular disease events.
Overall, drinking more than 100 grams of alcohol per week increased a person’s risk of early death. That is roughly the equivalent of five drinks for one entire week.
Drinking more than five drinks per week also increased the risk of stroke, coronary disease, heart failure, fatal hypertensive disease, and fatal aortic aneurysm.
Conversely, drinking more than 100 grams of alcohol per week lowered the risk of myocardial infarction, or heart attack. But no other benefits were seen.
Drinkers of beer and spirits, as well as binge drinkers, had the highest risk of death, compared to wine drinkers.
A 40 year old who drinks four units a day above the guidelines will experience two years lower life expectancy. Researchers indicate that amount averages to 1 hour a day, or 15 minutes of life per drink. This is roughly equivalent to the decrease seen with smoking a cigarette.
Researchers warn that the findings support recommendations for lower alcohol consumption than current guidelines. The recommended guidelines are contrary to most health guidelines concerning drinking.
The U.S. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends adult men drink no more than two alcoholic drinks per day and women no more than one drink per day. One drink is the equivalent of 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits.
The most a person can drink before seeing serious side effects is five drinks per week. Many people drink much more.
The CDC indicated 38 million adults admit to binge drinking once a week. When they do binge drink, they have an average of 8 glasses during each binge. That amount is well above the new recommendations, putting many people at risk of early death. Roughly 2,000 people die from acute alcohol intoxication every year.