No Amount of Alcohol Is Safe for Your Health, Says Huge Study

person refusing beer
Alcohol is associated with 2.8 million deaths each year worldwide. (Photo: Mateone/Shutterstock)

Studies about drinking alcohol typically have one thing in common: The result is usually that everything's OK in moderation.

But a massive new global study finds that no amount of wine, beer or liquor consumption is safe for your health.

Researchers used data from 694 studies to estimate worldwide alcohol drinking habits and used 592 studies encompassing 28 million people to study the health risks associated with alcohol between 1990 to 2016 in 195 countries. Analyzing data from 15- to 95-year-olds, the researchers compared people who didn't drink at all with those who had one drink a day.

Using that data, researchers found that alcohol is associated with 2.8 million deaths each year worldwide. It's the leading risk factor for disease and premature death in men and women between the ages of 15 and 49 worldwide in 2016, and is associated with nearly one in 10 deaths, according to the study, published in the journal The Lancet.

Risks outweigh benefits

Although the authors acknowledge that previous research has suggested a beneficial link between moderate drinking and heart health, they say any benefits are outweighed by the risk of cancer and other diseases.

"Previous studies have found a protective effect of alcohol on some conditions, but we found that the combined health risks associated with alcohol increase with any amount of alcohol," says lead author Max Griswold of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, in a statement.

"The widely held view of the health benefits of alcohol needs revising, particularly as improved methods and analyses continue to shed light on how much alcohol contributes to global death and disability."

According to the researchers, globally one in three people drink alcohol. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests women should have no more than one drink per day and men have no more than two.

Many in the medical community immediately responded in support of alcohol abstinence suggested in the study.

"This study is a stark reminder of the real, and potentially lethal, dangers that too much alcohol can have on our health and that even the lowest levels of alcohol intake increase our risks," said Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners in the U.K., in a statement.

However, at least one expert went in a different direction.

“Given the pleasure presumably associated with moderate drinking, claiming there is no ‘safe’ level does not seem an argument for abstention," said David Spiegelhalter, the Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge.

"There is no safe level of driving, but government do not recommend that people avoid driving. Come to think of it, there is no safe level of living, but nobody would recommend abstention.”