You've heard that alcohol in moderation could have health benefits—but a review of recent studies found that we've been seriously overestimating what moderate drinking really is.

Arielle Weg
May 03, 2018

If you drink a glass of wine or a single beer a night, you probably consider yourself a moderate drinker—but it turns out you may be drinking way too much alcohol.

A team of researchers at the University of Cambridge completed an extensive meta-study—reviewing data from 83 different studies conducted on alcohol consumption, and their conclusion, published in Lancet Medical Journal, found the current United States moderate drinking guidelines are much too high. Despite years of research suggesting holistic benefits of enjoying moderate amounts of alcohol, it seems that our notion of moderate is off by a lot. 

The American Heart Association and the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention define moderate drinking as two drinks for men and one drink for women per day, but new findings suggest consuming just seven drinks a week can increase risk of mortality.

The researchers looked at data tracking the drinking habits of 600,000 people from 19 high-income countries. Those who reported drinking less than 100 grams of alcohol weekly, or approximately seven drinks, had the lowest mortality rate. The mortality rate increased dramatically beyond that threshold.

While previous studies compared moderate drinkers to non-drinkers, this study noted that some portion of non-drinkers actually quit drinking for health-related reasons. When this population was accounted for, and moderate drinkers were compared to what they termed "never-drinkers," the health implications of regular alcohol consumption became much more starkly clear.

Those who reported consuming anywhere from seven to 14 drinks per week had their average life expectancy lowered by six months. In addition, participants who reported 14 to 18 drinks per week (and for men, the lower end is currently in recommended guidelines) had a lower life expectancy of one to two years, and those who reported more than 18 drinks per week had a lower life expectancy of four to five years.

Using numbers and guidelines presented within the study, a report published by The Guardian figured that one extra glass a day could take 30 minutes off your life.

The researchers behind the study are calling on health professionals around the world to change intake guidelines—in 2016, the United Kingdom did change their recommendations to lower their healthy intake guidelines significantly: No more than six drinks a week, both for men and women. In the wake of this momentous study being published, that move might have paid off for the British public—and might serve as a model for other countries to follow.

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"This study has shown that drinking alcohol at levels which were believed to be safe is actually linked with lower life expectancy and several adverse health outcomes," co-author Dan G. Blazer of Duke University said, according to USA Today.

In the United States, two in three adult drinkers report drinking above moderate levels at least once a month, according to the CDC. In a country that already goes beyond the generous health recommendations, researchers are urging the government to reconsider their guidelines in the future.