A new global analysis has determined that there are literally no health benefits associated with drinking alcohol if you’re under 40, and that even very small quantities of booze can be harmful. Fortunately, however, the news is slightly better for older generations, who may profit from a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and diabetes as a result of moderate drinking.
Presenting their findings in The Lancet, the researchers sought to address the ongoing controversy regarding the potential advantages to boozing. Numerous previous studies have indicated that a glass of wine a day may boost heart health, although such generalized claims have never been categorically proven or debunked.
To settle the issue, the study authors decided to take a more nuanced look at the available data. Using statistics from the 2020 Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study, they were able to estimate levels of alcohol use for people aged 15 and above in 204 countries and territories.
A break-down of the data allowed the researchers to calculate the risks associated with drinking according to age, gender, and geographical location. In doing so, they determined that 1.34 billion people consumed unsafe amounts of alcohol in 2020, with 76.7 percent of these being male and 59.1 percent under the age of 40.
Males aged 15 to 39 were found to be at the highest risk of unsafe drinking in all global regions, with 60 percent of alcohol-related traffic injuries involving people in this age group, including car accidents, murders, and suicides.
According to the analysis, the safe limit for men under the age of 40 is just 0.136 standard drinks a day, with loss of health occurring once this threshold is surpassed. Women in the same age category can safely drink roughly double this amount, with a standard drink equating to a small glass of wine, a can of beer, or a single shot of whisky or other spirit.
It’s worth noting, however, that the data does not distinguish between the effects of binge drinking and consuming steady amounts of alcohol over numerous days, and more research is therefore needed to determine how specific drinking patterns influence health.
“Our message is simple: young people should not drink, but older people may benefit from drinking small amounts,” said study author Dr Emmanuela Gakidou in a statement. “While it may not be realistic to think young adults will abstain from drinking, we do think it’s important to communicate the latest evidence so that everyone can make informed decisions about their health.”
The estimates reveal that moderate drinking can provide some health benefits to people over the age of 40 who have no underlying health problems, particular in populations with a higher burden of cardiovascular disease. For those aged between 40 and 64, safe alcohol consumption was found to range from about half a standard drink to 1.82 drinks per day.
Those over the age of 65, meanwhile, may be able to consume up to three-and-a-half drinks a day without experiencing any negative health effects.
“Although the risks associated with alcohol consumption are similar for males and females, young males stood out as the group with the highest level of harmful alcohol consumption,” said Dr Gakidou. “This is because a larger proportion of males compared to females consume alcohol and their average level of consumption is also significantly higher.”
Based on these findings, the authors say that alcohol consumption guidelines should be updated to reflect the varying levels of risk and benefit associated with age and gender. “Stronger interventions, particularly those tailored towards younger individuals, are needed to reduce the substantial global health loss attributable to alcohol,” they write.