Alcohol, Health & Longevity: Is It the Alcohol or the Lifestyle?

Large research studies containing thousands of healthy people have reported the lowest overall mortality occurs among those who consume two to five drinks of alcoholic beverages daily. Moderate drinkers have lower overall mortality than do abstainers and heavy drinkers. This is known as the “U-shaped curve.” Mortality is higher among abstainers, drops among moderate drinkers, and then increases among alcohol abusers, observes Dr. Dylan W. de Lange of the Thrombosis and Haemostasis Laboratory of the University Medical Center in Utrecht, the Netherlands.

Some critics have suggested that moderate drinkers have lower mortality than abstainers because abstainers include alcoholics who have damaged their health and no longer drink. However, even when abstainers are limited to those who have never consumed alcohol (thus excluding alcoholics), the relationship remains. That is, moderate drinkers have lower mortality than abstainers who have never consumed alcohol.

Critics have also suggested that the health benefits of alcohol are not in the substance but in the lifestyle of those who drink in moderation. Perhaps moderate drinkers have a better or more healthful lifestyle than do either abstainers or those who abuse alcohol. However, even when such confounding factors as diet, exercise, socio-economic status and income level are accounted for, moderate drinkers still have a lower overall mortality than either abstainers or heavy drinkers.

Thus, the health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption lie mainly in the alcohol itself.


  • de Lange, Dylan W., et al. Rapid intake of alcohol (binge drinking) inhibits platelet adhesion to fibrinogen under flow. Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, 2004, 28(10), 1562-1569.