How much alcohol is too much? Probably less than you think

Guidelines previously set by reputable health organizations such as the American Heart Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have since come under fire due to recent research pointing to what is and is not considered to be a reasonable amount to drink, isolating the many health risks presented by such consumptions. This was found by an international team of researchers who looked at the data gathered from the lives of almost 600,000 people in 19 countries across the world. These people were asked questions about their alcohol habits as far back as 1964, and were followed ever since.

The analysis of the data gathered from tracking the lives of more than half a million drinkers revealed that people who reported drinking more had higher rates of stroke, heart disease, deadly high blood pressure and fatal aortic aneurysms.

David Spiegelhalter, a risk expert at Britain’s University of Cambridge, stated, “The paper estimates a 40-year-old drinking four units a day above the guidelines [the equivalent of drinking three glasses of wine in a night] has roughly two years lower life expectancy. This works out at about an hour per day.”

Spiegelhalter added, “It is as if each unit above guidelines is taking, on average, about 15 minutes of life, about the same as a cigarette. Of course, it is up to individuals whether they think this is worthwhile.”

The most people could drink without facing the greater likelihood of the more adverse consequences was approximately five drinks, with one drink being defined as 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits. These findings stand in stark contrast to the numbers the AHA and the CDC give. They both support the idea that a man could safely drink two alcoholic drinks a day and that a woman could safely drink one alcoholic drink a day.

According to the CDC, more than 38 million American adults admit to binge-drinking once a week and drink an average of eight drinks per spree. Additionally, the CDC says that more than 2,000 Americans die each year from acute alcohol intoxication. Alcohol has been proven to be bad for health in many faculties. It raises the risk of many types of cancer and heart disorders, and one study even goes so far as to suggest that 15 percent of all cases of breast cancer are linked, in some degree, to alcohol consumption.

People who do not drink at all can also have health problems, which may confuse consumers and doctors. That being said, researchers who were led by Cambridge University’s Dr. Angela Wood only used information about current drinkers “because ex-drinkers include people who might have abstained from alcohol owing to poor health itself, as well as those who have changed their habits to achieve a healthier lifestyle.” This meant that the risk of incorrectly labeling alcohol as unhealthy was minimized. Researchers found that an increase in alcoholic intake correlated with a higher risk of death.

"The key message of this research for public health is that, if you already drink alcohol, drinking less may help you live longer and lower your risk of several cardiovascular conditions," Wood said in a statement.

Ultimately, the best piece of advice regarding the matter moving forward seems to come from Victoria Taylor, a senior dietitian at the British Heart Foundation: "We should always remember that alcohol guidelines should act as a limit, not a target, and try to drink well below this threshold.”