Booze blues: There’s no safe level of alcohol consumption, study finds

SEATTLE — Forget about all the research that points to the supposed benefits of booze. After conducting a study that found alcohol consumption was attributed to three million deaths globally in 2016, researchers conclude that there is simply no safe limit when it comes to drinking alcohol.

“The health risks associated with alcohol are massive,” argues senior study author Dr. Emmanuela Gakidou, of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, in a press release. “Our findings are consistent with other recent research, which found clear and convincing correlations between drinking and premature death, cancer, and cardiovascular problems. Zero alcohol consumption minimizes the overall risk of health loss.”

The study didn’t distinguish between types of alcohol — beer, wine, and liquor — due to lack of data separating the disease burden of each. The researchers instead used data on all alcohol-related deaths in 2016, as well as their related health outcomes to estimate the global burden of alcoholism.

While alcohol usage patterns vary greatly by country, by gender, average consumption per drinker, and attributable disease burden, the researchers found that two billion people drank regularly in 2016, and 63% were male. Of the three million people who lost their lives in 2016 due to alcohol consumption, 12% were males between the ages of 14 and 49.

The study was a part of the annual Global Burden of Disease report. Researchers assessed alcohol-related health outcomes and usage patterns between 1990 and 2016 in 195 countries worldwide. They identified 23 specific, negative health outcomes that were commonly associated with drinking alcohol, including communicable and non-communicable diseases and injuries caused by transportation accidents, machinery, poisoning, exposure to heat or fire, and more.

“There is a compelling and urgent need to overhaul policies to encourage either lowering people’s levels of alcohol consumption or abstaining entirely,” says Gakidou. “The myth that one or two drinks a day are good for you is just that – a myth. This study shatters that myth.”

Results show that in 2016, of the top ten countries with the lowest death rates from alcohol use among 15- to 49-year-olds, most were in the Middle East: Kuwait, Iran, Palestine, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Jordan, and Syria. The other two were Maldives and Singapore.

On the other hand, the countries with the highest death rates were in the Baltic, Eastern European, or Central Asian regions. They included Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, Mongolia, Latvia, and Kazakhstan. The other three were Lesotho, Burundi, and Central African Republic.

Researchers used nearly 700 data sources on individual and population-level alcohol consumption, and nearly 600 studies examining the risk of alcohol use. The study included work from more than 500 collaborators across 40 countries.

“With the largest collected evidence base to date, our study makes the relationship between health and alcohol clear – drinking causes substantial health loss, in myriad ways, all over the world,” says senior researcher and lead author Max Griswold.

The study was published in September 2018 in the medical journal The Lancet.

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