“The health risks associated with alcohol are massive,” Dr. Emmanuela Gakidou, director of education at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington and the senior author of the study said. “Zero alcohol consumption minimizes the overall risk of health loss.”
Even moderate alcohol consumption is associated with more than 23 negative health outcomes, including cardiovascular diseases, cancers, cirrhosis of the liver, diabetes, epilepsy, injuries stemming from interpersonal violence and self-harm, unintentional injuries stemming from poisonings, drowning , and other accidents, and transportation-related injuries.
Just one drink a day increases the likelihood of developing these health problems by 0.5%, and the risks rise rapidly with each additional daily alcoholic beverage. Those who drink two drinks each day see that likelihood increase to 7%, and those who drink five drinks every day are 37% more likely to develop one of these health outcomes.
A standard alcoholic beverage, as measured by the study, is a mall glass of red wine (100 ml or 3.4 fluid ounces) at 13% alcohol by volume; a can or bottle of beer (375 ml or 12 fluid ounces) at 3.5% alcohol by volume; or a shot of whiskey or other spirits (30 ml or 1.0 fluid ounces) at 40% alcohol by volume.
“The myth that one or two drinks a day are good for you is just that — a myth,” Gakidou said. “This study shatters that myth.”
The Distilled Spirits Council, a trade association representing producers of distilled spirits, said the study released Friday went too far, noting that past research has shown consuming alcohol in moderation could have positive health benefits. It also claims that increasing taxes on alcohol could increase illicit alcohol production.
“The researchers make clear that they are advocating for worldwide abstention from alcohol,” the organization said in a statement. “A more reasonable and effective approach is to address issues surrounding alcohol abuse country by country, taking into account the culture, individual alcohol consumption patterns and the marketplace.”
Alcoholism has been on the rise in the U.S. in recent years, with 1 in 8 Americans now meeting the criteria for an alcohol disorder — a 49% increase from the early 2000s. Previous studies have shown that alcohol like wine in small amounts can have anti-inflammatory effects, but this research shows that the risks far outweigh those relatively miniscule benefits.
A January study from the American Society of Clinical Oncology cited between 5% and 6% of new cancers and cancer deaths globally as directly linked to alcohol, affecting even moderate drinkers.
With these results in mind, health officials should implement more comprehensive programs to get citizens to cut down on or abstain completely from alcohol consumption, Gakidou said. That includes cutting back on hours that alcohol is sold and limiting advertising for alcoholic beverages.
Last year, the American Medical Association lobbied against NBC CMCSA, -3.93% adding hard liquor ads to its programming. A recent tax plan in the Senate would cut taxes on alcohol, which critics say could lead to 1,550 more deaths a year due to increased access to alcohol.