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Regularly Having One Too Many Drinks Could Shorten Your Life


Tom Hale


Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

Senior Journalist

Cheers! Alcohol is really terrible for your health.

It’s hardly news to hear that overdoing the booze is not good for you, but a major new study is now saying that just having an extra glass of wine regularly could be seriously damaging your health. In fact, over-drinking could be as bad for your health as many years of smoking.

These sobering findings come from a massive new study published this week in The Lancet medical journal. Over 120 scientists gathered data on the drinking habits and cardiovascular health of almost 600,000 current drinkers across the world.


They found that 12.5 units of alcohol a week, approximately five large beers or five glasses of wine, was the upper safe limit of drinking. Any more than that and there’s a significant increase in the risk of cardiovascular problems, including stroke, aortic aneurysm, fatal hypertensive disease, and heart failure.

Drinking 10 or more drinks every week was linked to one to two years shorter life expectancy. Meanwhile, 18 drinks or more per week was linked to four to five years shorter life expectancy.

“Compared to those who only drink a little, people who drink at the current UK guidelines suffer no overall harm in terms of death rates, and have 20 percent fewer heart attacks. But above two units a day, the death rates steadily climb,” explained Professor David Spiegelhalter from the University of Cambridge, who was not involved in the study.

"The paper estimates a 40-year-old drinking four units a day above the guidelines has roughly two years lower life expectancy, which is around a twentieth of their remaining life. 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.”


Professor Tim Chico, of the University of Sheffield, added: "I would not be surprised if the heaviest drinkers lost as many years of life as a smoker."

The researchers suggest that the government recommendations for safe alcohol need to be rethought. The US government guidelines define low-risk drinking as two “standard” alcoholic drinks a day for men and one for women plus no more than a total of 14 drinks per week. This new research suggests that this is still too much.

The UK lowered its recommendations in 2016 to no more than 14 units a week, about six pints of beer or six medium glasses of wine. According to this new research, that’s a fairly reasonable and scientifically sound limit.

"The key message of this research is that, if you already drink alcohol, drinking less may help you live longer and lower your risk of several cardiovascular conditions," Dr Angela Wood, the lead author of the study, said in a statement.


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