Just in time for happy hour!
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Credit: photo by Ronnie Kaufman/Larry Hirshowitz via getty images

It’s finally starting to feel like spring has sprung here in the northeast, which means outdoor day drinking season is just around the corner. But before your next bottomless brunch or boozy picnic, you might want to know about a new downer of a scientific study that spells out exactly how many minutes that next mimosa or summer shandy will shave off of your life expectancy.

In a comprehensive meta-analysis of 83 studies that incorporate data from nearly 600,000 total drinkers published in The Lancet, scientists (aka boring nerds) concluded that the alcohol “risk threshold” for stroke and different forms of cardiovascular disease is no more than 100 grams of alcohol in a given week. That translates to about five drinks, less than one per day.

Anyone who exceeds that puritanical threshold at age 40 risks losing anywhere from six months to as many as five years of life expectancy, depending on the extent of one’s weekly habit. According to David Spiegelhalter, the Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge, each drink adds up. “It’s as if each unit above guidelines is taking, on average, about 15 minutes of life, about the same as a cigarette,” he told The Guardian.

That news will surely be hard to swallow, especially for those who though following their government’s health guidelines regarding alcohol consumption was good enough. The five drink a week threshold is even more restrictive than what’s recommended in places like the US (14 drinks for men, seven for women), UK (14 each), and more permissive places like Spain (which allows for 20 guilt-free drinks a week). It’s “a serious wake-up call for many countries,” says Jeremy Pearson of the British Heart Foundation, a group which provided funding for the study.

Of course, any wise old soul will tell you that it’s not the number of years in your life, but the life in your years. What good is an extra few hours of puttering around a nursing home in your eighties if it means missing skipping out on happy hour now? I say you’re better off living it up now and having some good stories to tell your grandkids.