Day-Ruining Study Shows How Drinking May Shorten Your Life

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I hate to do this on what was a perfectly nice day, but researchers have published a sobering new study on the effects of alcohol on a person’s life expectancy, and — spoiler alert — the amount of alcohol they deemed “safe” is not much at all.

If this study had to ruin my day, it might as well ruin everyone else’s too.

National Guidelines Are All Over the Place

Drinking recommendations currently vary widely by country. The U.S. recommends consumption of alcoholic beverages be capped at seven drinks a week for women, or 14 for men. U.K. guidelines used to be similar, but they recently brought the men’s count down to match the women’s. Official recommendations published in Italy and Spain are about 50 percent higher.

Because national recommendations are all over the place, researchers decided to try to figure out once and for all the “risk thresholds associated with the lowest risk of mortality.” Those findings were just published in The Lancet, and they’re ruining a lot of people’s evening plans.

Researchers looked at 600,000 people in high-income countries who drink alcohol and have no previous history of cardiac disease. The researchers found that the minimum mortality risk amount was around or below 100 grams of alcohol a week, or about five drinks a week. Going beyond that small amount increased a person’s risk of stroke, aneurysm, heart failure, fatal hypertensive disease, and more.

Your Life Expectancy, on Alcohol

According to the study, a 40-year-old who drinks between 100 and 200 grams of alcohol a week, or five to 10 drinks, loses approximately six months off their life expectancy compared with people who stay under 100 grams. A 40-year-old who drinks between 200 and 350 grams, or roughly 10 to 18 drinks a week, loses one or two years off their life expectancy. Drinking more than 350 grams, or 18 drinks, is associated with a loss of four or five years of life expectancy.

“The paper estimates a 40-year-old drinking four units a day above the guidelines [the equivalent of drinking three glasses of wine in a night] has roughly two years’ lower life expectancy, which is around a 20th of their remaining life,” David Spiegelhalter, Winton professor for the public understanding of risk at the University of Cambridge, said in an interview with The Guardian. “This works out at about an hour per day. So it’s as if each unit above guidelines is taking, on average, about 15 minutes of life, about the same as a cigarette. Of course, it’s up to individuals whether they think this is worthwhile.”

Well, that’s distressing. And now I’m going to be stuck doing some pretty grim math every time I place a drink order.