New Study Finds Even Moderate Drinking Can Shorten Your Life

Bartender is preparing mojito cocktails.
Bartender is preparing mojito cocktail N+T / Getty Images

The key takeaway from a new University of Cambridge study is that consuming more than five drinks a week could shorten your life. Our key takeaway is: Damn it all to hell.

For years previous research indicated that moderate alcohol consumption isn’t that bad—it can even be beneficial, lowering your risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and death from cardiovascular causes. Their definition of “moderate” was 14 drinks per week. But the new study suggests even half that number can heighten your risk of heart and circulatory diseases.

Why the about-face? Other studies included people who had never consumed alcohol, as well as recovering alcoholics or those who abstain from alcohol due to a health condition. This study solely focused on current drinkers to reduce the risk of bias.

The study also comes in the wake of new alcohol guidelines in the UK. It was lowered to be about six pints of beer or six glasses of wine a week. (Editor’s Note: The study was funded by the UK Medical Research Council, British Heart Foundation, National Institute for Health Research, European Union Framework 7, and European Research Council.)

Researchers compared the overall health and drinking habits of roughly 600,000 people in 19 countries worldwide. Participants self-reported their alcohol consumption; however, no firm conclusions can me made about cause and effect because this was all observational data.

Ultimately, researchers capped the acceptable alcohol ceiling at five drinks per week (just over five pints of 4% ABV beer or five 175ml glasses of 13% ABV wine). Anything more lowers your life expectancy by boosting your risk of stroke, fatal aneurysm, heart failure, and death.

Just how much? Having 10 or more drinks per week was associated with knocking off one to two years from your life expectancy. Having 18 drinks or more per week was linked with four to five. Just how bad do you want that IPA now?

Researchers believe alcohol’s effect on blood pressure and cholesterol spell disaster for your heart health. However, they did note some liquor, beer, and wine is linked to a lessened risk of non-fatal heart attacks—of course with a caveat.

“Alcohol consumption is associated with a slightly lower risk of non-fatal heart attacks but this must be balanced against the higher risk associated with other serious—and potentially fatal—cardiovascular diseases,” lead study author Angela Wood said in a press release.

Sobering findings? Yes.