How much booze can you drink before it starts killing you? Not much

Man pouring alcoholic drink

Drinking more than six glasses of wine or cans of beer a week reduces your life expectancy, according to the one of the largest-ever studies on global alcohol consumption.

The more you drink, the higher your risk, the study says. Heavy drinkers shave years off their lifespan.

Australian health guidelines say 14 standard drinks a week – that’s about seven pints of beer, or about nine glasses of wine – is safe.

But the new findings, published on Friday in The Lancet, significantly undermine that claim.

“The take home message is this: less is probably better. The lowest mortality we observed was in people who drank less than 10 standard drinks of alcohol a week,” says Professor Bu Yeap, a health researcher at the University of WA and among the more than 100 international academics who co-authored the study.

The landmark study combined data from 599,912 drinkers across 19 developed countries, with records stretching back to 1964.

About 11,000 Australians were included in the sample.

“We are really looking at this in people from all over the world. And because it’s such a large study, we can see the associations very clearly,” says Professor Yeap.

The key finding: the more you drink, the higher your risk of death. Drinking more than 100 grams of pure alcohol – 10 standard drinks – a week puts you at risk.

A person aged 40 who drinks 10 to 20 standard drinks a week knocks six months off their life expectancy.

Drinkers who put away more than 35 standard drinks a week reduced that number by four to five years.

But, importantly, this increase is not linear. A small amount of additional alcohol increases your risk of death, but only by a small amount. There seems to be a threshold at which risk dramatically ramps up.

A person who drinks between seven and 14 cans of beer (each one is about 1.4 standard drinks) a week increases their chances of death by about 5 per cent compared to a person drinking less than seven cans a week, estimates Professor Yeap

Drink more than 21 cans a week and your risk of death rises by 20 per cent.

Drink more than 35 cans of beer a week, and your risk of death increases by 50 per cent.

The lowest mortality we observed was in people who drank less than 10 standard drinks of alcohol a week -- Professor Bu Yeap

“Your best outcome seems to be if you’re drinking less than 100 grams of alcohol a week. Once you get to about 300-350 grams a week there is quite an appreciable decrease in life expectancy,” says Professor Yeap.

Alcohol can kill you in all sorts of ways. Injury, suicide and assault are linked to binge drinking; regular drinking at risky levels is associated with liver, gut and heart diseases, dementia, and cancer.

Almost one in five Australians aged over 14 drinks more than two standard drinks of alcohol a day, according to a survey by the government-run Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. That’s about 3.4 million people.

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