Abstaining is just as bad for your life expectancy as heavy drinking and moderate drinkers live longer, a new study shows. Scientists examined the association between alcohol consumption and all-cause mortality over 20 years among 1,824 older American adults aged between 55 and 65. Compared to moderate drinkers, abstainers showed a two times increased mortality risk. Heavy drinkers had 70% increased risk, and light drinkers showed 23% increased risk. The baseline sample was for the purpose of the comparison only controlled for age and gender. After adjusting for other key sociodemographic and social-behavioral factors, abstainers and heavy drinkers continued to show increased mortality risk of 51 and 45%, respectively, compared to moderate drinkers. The findings of this new study are consistent with previous research on alcohol consumption and total mortality among older adults. Moderate alcohol consumption is defined as 1 to 3 drinks from 14 tot 28 g of alcohol per day. According to previous studies, the apparent health-protective effects of moderate alcohol consumption compared to abstention may be related to reductions in cardiovascular illness. In contrast, the adverse health effects of high compared to moderate alcohol consumption appear primarily because of noncardiovascular illnesses, such as several cancers, cirrhosis of the liver, chronic pancreatitis, hypertension, as well as injuries caused by falls and accidents. Bear in mind that this new study is not experimental; the scientists controlled for a wide range of confounding factors, but may have missed some factors. Also, the data they used was based on self-reporting, which can be unreliable (e.g. people often underestimate their alcohol consumption). Furthermore, studying the relationship between alcohol consumption and mortality in older adults can skew results because the most vulnerable individuals may have died before the baseline sample has been established.
Charles J. Holahan, e.a. “Late-Life Alcohol Consumption and 20-Year Mortality”, in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, Vol. 34, No. 11, November 2010. Published online 24/08/2010 (pdf).