Drinking Levels and Mortality Rates

Des­pite the vari­ous and severe health risks that come with drink­ing, abstain­ing from alco­hol appears to increase your risk of dying pre­ma­turely. The reas­ons for this are not clearly known, but it is thought to be because drink­ers are more likely to belong to a com­munity (albeit one that drinks), and a feel­ing of com­munity is strongly cor­rel­ated with hap­pi­ness and longev­ity.

Even after con­trolling for nearly all ima­gin­able vari­ables — socioeco­nom­ic status, level of phys­ic­al activ­ity, num­ber of close friends, qual­ity of social sup­port and so on — the research­ers […] found that over a 20-year peri­od, mor­tal­ity rates were highest for those who were not cur­rent drink­ers, regard­less of wheth­er they used to be alco­hol­ics, second highest for heavy drink­ers and low­est for mod­er­ate drinkers. […]

These are remark­able stat­ist­ics. Even though heavy drink­ing is asso­ci­ated with high­er risk for cir­rhosis and sev­er­al types of can­cer (par­tic­u­larly can­cers in the mouth and eso­phag­us), heavy drink­ers are less likely to die than people who don’t drink, even if they nev­er had a prob­lem with alco­hol. One import­ant reas­on is that alco­hol lub­ric­ates so many social inter­ac­tions, and social inter­ac­tions are vital for main­tain­ing men­tal and phys­ic­al health. […]

The authors of the new paper are care­ful to note that even if drink­ing is asso­ci­ated with longer life, it can be dan­ger­ous: it can impair your memory severely and it can lead to non­leth­al falls and oth­er mis­haps […] that can screw up your life. There’s also the depend­ency issue.

The cor­rel­a­tions between alco­hol intake and vari­ous health out­comes (both pos­it­ive and neg­at­ive) is con­fus­ing and var­ied. A few things seem to be for sure: it can be good and it can be bad; no caus­a­tion has been proven; and the effects dif­fer between the sexes.

Update: I for­got to link to the pub­lished study (Hola­han et al., 2010)… the Res­ults sec­tion is the one worth per­us­ing. For those without full access to the study (ahem), Over­com­ing Bias provides the full list of con­trols.

Update: Jonah Lehr­er dis­cusses this study in an art­icle titled Why Alco­hol Is Good for You, emphas­ising the social side of drink­ing as the key to longev­ity.

4 thoughts on “Drinking Levels and Mortality Rates

  1. Len

    Many years ago I tested very high for cho­les­ter­ol. I rad­ic­ally changed my diet for 6 months and my cho­les­ter­ol actu­ally went up. My doc­tor pre­dicted this. (I was an in shape 30 year old.) His­tory of hear attacks in my fam­ily he asked? No. Alco­hol­ism? For sure. That explains it he said. He said a per­cent­age of the pop­u­la­tion can not pro­cess cho­les­ter­ol prop­erly. (I think he said 15% roughly, not sure) I prob­ably inher­ited this. He said this explained how an oth­er­wise healthy 40 year old can sud­denly die from a heart attack. Today we have a mir­acle drug called Lip­it­or but alco­hol does a decent job of fight­ing cho­les­ter­ol which would explains the lack of heart dis­ease but rampant alco­hol­ism in my fam­ily. Cheers!

  2. Len

    That’s all accord­ing to my doc­tor. I only play one on the inter­net. He called Lip­it­or a “mir­acle drug”. Cures a major ail­ment with almost no side effects. A minor­ity have liv­er prob­lems with it. Or is it kid­ney? He claimed he knew oth­er doc­tors that gave the drug to their chil­dren. It cer­tainly worked on me. I went 6 months with no red meat, oat­meal and green tea daily and actu­ally went up. Yeah for sci­ence!

  3. Len

    If not on Lip­it­or, he would have recom­men­ded I drink two beers or a glass of wine a day. Yeah for alco­hol!

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