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There’s No Safe Amount Of Alcohol To Drink, Says A Major New Study


Tom Hale

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


Alcohol is a leading risk factor for death and disease worldwide. Nykonchuk Oleksii/Shutterstock

A massive new study, published this week in the journal The Lancet, claims to show that there is no "safe level" of alcohol consumption – not even a glass of red wine with your meal.

However, since we don't want to totally ruin your weekend, it's worth pointing out that the risks of moderate drinking are fairly low. Besides, everything in life comes with risk, from crossing the street to eating your dinner. It's simply about understanding and managing those risks. 


“The research also found that any level of alcohol consumption is associated with an increased risk of ill health, even after accounting for the fact that moderate drinking may protect against heart disease,” Colin Angus, from the University of Sheffield’s Alcohol Research Group, said in a statement.

“However, it is important to note that many everyday activities, such as driving, carry risks which we deem to be acceptable – studies like this one can help people make more informed choices about which risks they wish to take.”

The researchers sifted through hundreds of studies about alcohol use and its associated health effects for 195 countries between 1990 and 2016. Their analysis showed that up to 2.2 percent of women and 6.8 percent of men globally die from alcohol-related health problems each year. More Specifically, drinking just one drink a day increases the risk of developing one of the 23 alcohol-related health problems by 0.5 percent.

While the study's scientists accept that moderate drinking can have some health benefits, namely for heart disease, these are outweighed by the cocktail of adverse effects that also come with alcohol.

Relative risk of alcohol for all attributable causes, by standard drinks consumed per day. M Griswold et al/The Lancet

In high-income countries, the most common alcohol-related premature deaths were caused by cancers, while in low-income countries the main culprits were tuberculosis, cirrhosis, and chronic liver diseases. In middle- and high-to-middle income countries, stroke was the reason behind the alcohol-related deaths.

It does sound a little bit daunting. However, although the risks are real, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should become a teetotaler. After all, even experts accept that drinking alcohol is pretty fun (in moderation, of course). 

“Given the pleasure presumably associated with moderate drinking, claiming there is no ‘safe’ level does not seem an argument for abstention. There is no safe level of driving, but government do not recommend that people avoid driving,” explains Professor David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge, who was not involved with study. “Come to think of it, there is no safe level of living, but nobody would recommend abstention.”


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