When it comes to “healthy” drinking, the party’s over

By Tim Nelson
Updated August 27, 2018
Credit: Photo by Sebastian Rothe / EyeEm via Getty Images

If you’re like many people, you probably enjoyed an alcoholic beverage or two or seven over the past weekend. You probably did so on the belief that consuming a certain amount of alcohol a week (red wine, perhaps) is not only acceptable, but downright healthy.

Welp, no. Unfortunately some new scientific findings are here to kill your buzz and add a new layer of existential dread to your next hangover. Based on a recent meta-analysis of almost 700 prior studies for a new report in the medical journal Lancet, researchers concluded that any and all health benefits associated with alcohol consumption are overshadowed by the attendant increase in offsetting risks.

Though the study admitted that alcohol can offer some protection against coronary-artery disease in women, the fact that one in ten deaths of those in the broad 15 to 49 age range can be tied back to alcohol pretty much cancels those advantages out when viewed through a broader public health lens. For that age group, the leading causes of death for which alcohol was a contributing factor were “tuberculosis, road injuries, and self-harm.”

“The conclusions of the study are clear and unambiguous: alcohol is a colossal global health issue,” Robyn Burton of King’s College London, one of the study’s authors, told Bloomberg. Burton proposes “Increasing taxation [to] create[] income for hard-pressed health ministries, and reducing the exposure of children to alcohol marketing” as potential policy solutions.

The meta-analysis also shed some light on how drinking habits differ from country to country. Europeans, it seems, are the heaviest drinkers. In Romania, for example, men drank an average of 8.2 drinks (defined as 10 grams of pure alcohol) a day in 2016. Men in Portugal, Luxembourg, and Ukraine also knocked back at least 7 drinks a day that year.

While the study is at least mildly distressing to anyone who enjoys cracking open the occasional cold one, the good news seems to be that more millennials are choosing to moderate (or even eliminate) their alcohol consumption. If what this study posits is true, that trend could at least be good news for public health outcomes going forward.

Despite that, there’s no doubt plenty of people will continue to drink. Even if alcohol makes life a little shorter, it certainly makes it more bearable in the meantime. Just don’t toast to your health anymore.