Moderate drinkers live longer in general than either abstainers or alcohol abusers. That is, moderate alcohol drinking increases longevity or length of life.
It does this largely by improving health and reducing the risk of major causes of death.
For example, moderately drinking alcohol reduces risk of death from cardiovascular diseases (CVD) by almost half. So that alone has a major impact on lengthening life. And CVD cause about half of deaths in much of the world.
In addition, moderate drinkers are generally less likely to suffer other diseases such as these.
- Type 2 diabetes
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Gallbladder disease
- Enlarged prostate
- Dementia (including Alzheimer’s)
- Kidney cancer
- Thyroid cancer
- Hodgkin’s lymphoma (cancer)
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (cancer)
- Peripheral artery disease
- Metabolic syndrome
- Essential tremors
- Hepatitis A
- Kidney stones
- Parkinson’s disease
- Stress and depression
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
- Asthma and lung disease
- Abdominal aortic aneurysm
- High blood pressure
- H pylori infection (the major cause of hepatitis B)
- Intermittent claudication1
So it’s no surprise that moderate drinkers tend to live longer. And they live longer than either those who abstain from alcohol or those who abuse it.
B. Studies of Women
C. Studies of Men
D. Studies of Women and Men
I. Background: Drinkers Live Longer
The first researcher to present scientific evidence that drinkers live longer was Dr. Raymond Pearl. He was one of the best-known scientists in the first half of the 20th century. Then in 1923, Dr. Pearl authored a book chapter revealing his findings.2 Then, in 1926, he published Alcohol and Longevity.3 But this was during National Prohibition (1920-1933).
Of course, temperance advocates opposed his research. Also finding that drinkers live longer than abstainers was not very relevant during Prohibition.
60 Minutes Program
Then in 1991, CBS News devoted a segment of its “60 Minutes” TV program to the “French Paradox.” That’s the fact that the French eat a diet rich in fats and cholesterol. Yet they have a CVD rate 40 percent lower than the US. The idea was that the French wine drinking provided great protection against the disease.4
This was news to most viewers but not to alcohol researchers. That’s because for decades studies were reporting that moderate drinkers live longer on average.
Moderate drinkers had large reductions in CVD. It’s not surprising that they tended to live longer. Also, the alcohol could be wine, beer, or spirits (liquor).
The segment on “60 Minutes” started the myth that the health and longevity benefits were from drinking only red wine. Yet the primary beneficial component of alcoholic beverages is the alcohol itself. For more see The Red Wine Health Myth.
Studies on drinking and longevity have expanded around the world in recent decades. Almost all have found either a U-shaped or a J-shaped relationship between drinking and death from any and all causes.
U and J Explained
The part of the letter U or J on the left represents the death rate for abstainers. The middle point represents that of light and moderate drinkers. The part at the right represents the rate for heavy drinkers.
If a study finds that non-drinkers and heavy drinkers both have similar death rates, it has found a U-shaped relationship. If it finds that heavy drinkers have a death rate higher than abstainers, it has found a J-shaped relationship.
II. Studies on Alcohol and Longevity
A. Reviews and Meta-Analyses
Meta-analysis (MA) is a statistical method for synthesizing data from a number of studies.
• The US National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) found that moderate drinkers have the lowest all-cause death.5
• Analysts reviewed 59 studies alcohol consumption and all-cause mortality. They found a general J-shaped curve.6
Over a Million People
• Investigators did an MA of 34 studies of alcohol and total mortality among 1,015,835 men and women around the world. Women who had 1-2 drinks daily and men who had 2-4 drinks daily had the lowest death rate.7
• Researchers made an MA of 16 studies assessing drinking andoverall mortality. They found a J-shaped curve between drinking and death rates. And this was true for both men and women.8
• Analysts conducted a study of all major research on heart disease. They found that moderate drinkers live longer on average. Such drinkers had a much lower risk of dying than either non-drinkers or heavy drinkers.9
Abstaining is a Risk Factor for Death
• Scientists studied data from a number of studies. Prospective studies of middle-aged men almost universally find a U-shaped curve between alcohol and risk of death. Abstaining was a risk for all-cause death. Moderate drinkers live longer10
• Researchers analyzed 20 cohort studies. The most protective levels varied by gender and country. In the U.S., about one drink per day was most protective. However, in the U.K, it was almost twice that. The optimum rates for women were lower.11
• Statisticians made an MA of 54 studies. They explored the idea that “sick quitters” among non-drinkers exaggerates the longevity benefits of moderate drinking. Analysts found no support for the theory.12
• Others did an MA of nine studies that examined the link between drinking and risk of all-cause death among patients with high blood pressure. Low to moderate drinkers had a large drop in all-cause death.13
•Researchers did an MA of eight studies of 16,351 patients with a history of CVD. They found a J-shaped pattern. The lowest risk of death among light and moderate drinkers.14
• This MA was of all prior studies on alcohol and risk of all-cause death. There were certain factors that effected that link. For example, older people get the greatest protective effect of drinking. But the overall beneficial effect of light to moderate drinking remained consistent.15
• Doctors analyzed data from over 85,000 women. There was a lower risk of all-cause mortality among moderate drinkers.16
• Canadian doctors studied a large cohort of middle-aged women over time. Compared with abstainers, light and moderate drinkers had a markedly lower risk of all-cause death.17
• Researchers followed for nine years a cohort of 6,917 women aged 50-59 living in Sweden. The researchers found that abstaining was a risk factor for all-cause death.18
• Scholars followed for a mean of eight years 116,186 middle-aged women. In comparison to lifetime abstention from alcohol, moderate drinkers had a lower risk of all-cause mortality.19
• Doctors examined alcohol and all-cause death in 26,399 women. They followed them for a mean of 12.2 years. They also adjusted for possible confounders. Drinking and all-cause mortality formed J-shaped pattern.20
• Swedish investigators tracked a cohort of 47,921 women aged 30-49 for 13 years. In comparison to abstainers, light and moderate drinkers had a large reduction in risk of all-cause mortality.21
• In China, doctors made a large study of middle-aged men. Those who drank in moderation had about 20% lower risk of all-cause mortality than abstainers.22
• British scholars studied 12,000 male physicians for 13 years. Those who drank moderately had the lowest risk of all-cause mortality.23
Very Large Study
• Scientists followed over 200,000 men for 12 years. Moderate drinkers had a much lower risk of all-cause death during that time than non-drinkers.24
• Researchers tracked 89,299 men for five and one-half years. Light and moderate drinkers tended to live longer than those who either abstained or drank heavily.25
• Scholars studied 1,536 Italian men ages 45 to 65. Those who had one to four drinks each day gained about two years of life. That’s in comparison to either occasional or heavy drinkers.26
• Doctors in made a study of middle-aged men over time. Having two drinks per day lead to a 19% reduction in mortality risk compared to abstainers.27
• In Japan, scholars studied 5,135 male physicians for 19 years. Occasional drinkers and those who had one to four drinks per day had large drops in risk of all-cause death. That’s in comparison to life-time abstainers. And this finding held after controlling for possible confounding factors.28
• This study followed 7,735 middle-aged British men for 7.5 years. Those men who had one-half to six drinks per day had a 30% lower risk of all-cause mortality. That’s in comparison to non-drinkers. Yet those who had more than six drinks per day had a 10% lower risk than abstainers.29
• Doctors tracked 1,823 men for 12 years. That was 21,716 man years of follow-up. Overall death was lowest for moderate drinkers in each of three age groups.30
• This study involved 8,043 construction workers in Germany aged 25-64 years. It followed-up after an average of seven years. Researchers found a U-shaped curve between alcohol consumption and total death. Abstainers had a death rate 2.8 times higher than men who had up to 3.5 drinks per day. The study excluded non-drinkers with pre-existing diseases. But this did not change the U-shaped pattern.31
• A study followed 1,422 male government employees for 10 years. It found a U-shaped relationship between drinking and all-cause death. And differences in smoking, blood pressure, plasma cholesterol, and employment grade did not change it.32
• A study in Scotland followed-up 5,766 men aged 35 to 64 after 21 years. Non-drinkers and moderate drinkers had similar risk for all-cause death. On the other hand, heavy drinkers had an increased risk.33
• A study in Japan followed 19,231 men aged 40 to 59 for seven years. Moderate drinkers had the lowest risk of all-cause death.34
• Finnish analysts studied ten-year all-cause death in 1,112 men aged 55 to 74. At follow-up, they found a J-shaped curve. Light and moderate drinkers had the lowest risk of death from any cause. In other words, such drinkers live longer.35
• Doctors studied World War II veteran male twin pairs, in which one drank and the other abstained. They followed them for 24 years. They noted first or only death in these pairs. Light and moderate drinking co-twins had a reduced risk almost half that of their abstaining brothers.36
• A study followed middle-aged (51 to 64 years old) and elderly (65 to 75 years old) Japanese-American men. It did so men for about 15 years. All-cause death formed a J-shaped pattern in relation to drinking for both groups.37
• Doctors made a study of Japanese-American men in Hawaii. They found a U-shaped curve for the total death rate. Light drinking gave the greatest protection.38
• A French study followed 34,014 middle-aged men. It followed them for 10 to 15 years. Moderate wine drinkers (two to five glasses per day) had a 24-31% drop in all-cause death.39
• Researchers studied 31,637 men in Texas with a mean age of 42.9. They followed them for a mean of 16 years. They then adjusting for possible confounders. They found a flattened J-shape pattern between risk of all-cause death and drinking. The lowest risk was among light drinkers.40
• Researchers tracked 1,373 men aged 40 to 60 for up to 40 years. Long-term light drinking greatly reduced the risk of all-cause mortality. Light wine drinkers had about five years longer life expectancy.41
• A study followed young men in the Swedish military. The protective effects against CVD did not outweigh the negative effects of abuse in this population. It has a very small risk of death from such disease.42
• Harvard researchers found the risk of all-cause death was 21%-28% lower among men who drank moderately. This, when compared with non-drinkers.43
• Researchers followed about 490,000 men and women aged 30 to 104 for nine years. Their mean age was 56. Moderate drinkers were much less likely to die of all causes than non-drinkers. Among both men and women at all drinking levels, the risk of all-causes death was lower than that of abstainers. Those levels included six or more drinks per day. Clearly, drinkers live longer.44
• Scientists studied 88,000 people in the U.S.were over a ten-year period. Moderate drinkers were 27% less likely to die of any cause. That’s in comparison to either non-drinkers or heavy drinkers.45
• Doctors studied over 40,000 people in Hawaii. Moderate drinkers had a much lower risk of all-cause death than abstainers.46
• Scientists studied 2,487 adults aged 70 to 79 for an average of over five and one-half years. Light to moderate drinkers had a much lower risk of all-cause death than either abstainers or occasional drinkers.47
• Researchers studied 34,159 persons over 65 for ten years. Men who had four drinks per day had a much lower risk of all-cause death. Women who had two per day also had a much lower risk.48 Note that these drinking levels are double the US recommended levels.
• Clinicians tracked 12,519 adults in the US aged 55 and older for four years. Moderate drinkers had a 28% lower risk of death than did abstainers.49
• Danish researchers followed a cohort of 11,914 persons aged 20 or older for 20 years. Both non-drinkers and heavy drinkers had the highest rates of all-cause death.50
• Australian doctors studied nearly 3,000 adults for 14 years. Compared with abstainers, moderate drinkers were much less likely to die over that time.51
• Researchers tracked 111,511 persons in the US for up to nine years. A J-shaped curve occurred. The lowest risk of death occurred among moderate drinkers. Thus, the researchers found that moderate drinkers live longer.52
• This study followed 123,840 people for seven years. Those who had up to through two drinks per day had a greatly reduced risk of all-cause death.53
• Researchers studied 1,824 people aged 55 to 65 for 20 years. Abstainers had a 51% higher risk of death and heavy drinkers had a 45% higher risk of death. That is in comparison to moderate drinkers.54
• Doctors followed cohorts of persons aged 65 or older from three different states in the US for five years. In two of the states, moderate drinkers had a much lower risk of all-cause death than did abstainers. There were no great differences in the third state.55
• Researchers studied 802 adult wine drinkers ages 55-65. They grouped them as follows. (1) Abstainers. (2) High-wine-consuming moderate drinkers. (3) Low-wine-consuming moderate drinkers. Both groups (2) and (3) had much lower mortality risks compared with abstainers.56
• Doctors studied 16,304 middle-aged and elderly Danes aged 50 or over. They did so for a mean of 11.5 years. Moderate drinkers reduced their risk of death greatly. But men who had over 10 drinks per day had an increase in risk. And women who had over over four per day also had an increased risk.57
• Danish doctors studied 13,285 persons 30 to 79 and followed-up after 10 to 12 years. A U-shaped pattern existed between alcohol and all-cause death.58
• This study involved 1,071 Germans aged 45-64 at baseline. The follow-up was eight years later. Researchers found a U-shaped pattern between drinking and risk of all-cause death. Moderate drinkers had lower risks. And they persisted after adjusting for confounding factors.60
• Researchers followed a cohort of 1,332 persons aged 65 and older for 12 years. Compared with abstainers, moderate drinkers without chronic heart failure were at lower risk of all-cause death. Increased risk occurred among those with the disease.61
• Australian clinicians followed 1,236 men and 1,569 women for an average of 77 months. A U-shaped pattern existed between alcohol and risk of all-cause death. The lowest risk was among men who had over four drinks per day. Women who had up to two drinks per day had the lowest risk.62
• Researchers followed a total of 2,171 Australians aged 40 or older for 23 years. Compared with abstainers, moderate drinkers had a 24% reduced risk of all-cause death. Most (77%) of the non-drinkers had been life-long abstainers. And most of the rest had been long-time abstainers.63
• Doctors followed for 20 years 11,920 Danes. Low alcohol drinking did not reduce the risk of all-cause death compared to abstainering.64
• Researchers tracked a cohort of 54,167 older persons in Hong Kong for a mean of 4.1 years. Moderate drinking men and women drinkers had much lower risks of all-cause death than did lifetime abstainers. This held only for those in good health.65
• Scientists followed 4,747 persons for 22 years. Men who drank had lower all-cause death than those who didn’t. Drinking by women had no impact on risk of death.66
• There was little effect of drinking alcohol on the total death rate among 8,187 persons in the US.67
• Doctors followed for 15 years a sample of 6,928 Californians. Men who abstained had a higher risk of all-cause death than light and moderate drinkers. But there was no difference for women.68
• Analysts tracked about 10,000 persons for up to 22 years. Compared to lifetime abstainers, only white men and women who drank in moderation had greatly lower risks of all-cause death.69
• British doctors tracked for 11 years 10,308 government employees aged 35 to 55 years at baseline. They found a U-shaped pattern between weekly volume of alcohol drunk and risk of all-cause death. Moderate drinkers had almost half the risk of either abstainers or heavy drinkers. Drinking only once a month or on special occasions led to a 50% increased risk of death.70
• US doctors followed a sample of 12,519 adults aged 55 and older for about five years. After analysis, moderate drinking led to a much lower risk of all-cause death.71
• Researchers made a study of 1,869 late-middle-aged drinkers and former drinkers over time. Former drinkers had a higher risk of all-cause death than light, moderate, or heavy drinkers.72
• Data for this study came from 128,934 adults. A J-shaped pattern existed between drinking and risk of all-cause death. And that was stable over a period of 20 years.73
• Doctors followed a large US sample for 15 years. A U-shape between alcohol and lower risk of all-cause occurred among older persons. But it did not occur among younger persons.74
• Researchers followed samples of men aged 40-59 and women aged 40-69. They did so in both the US and Russia for 13 years. Abstaining in the US had a higher risk of all-cause death than any level of drinking. In Russia, abstaining had a higher risk than one of three drinking levels.75
III. Conclusion: Moderate Drinkers Live Longer
Up to the present time, alcohol researchers have made these studies around the world. They have done so in Australia, Britain, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France and Germany. Also in Hong Kong (China), Italy, Japan, Russia, Sweden, the US, and unspecified countries in Europe.
The vast majority of studies conducted for decades report the same thing. That light to moderate alcohol drinking increases longevity.
In short, moderate drinkers tend to live longer.
IV. Resources: Drinkers of Alcohol Live Longer
- Moderate Alcohol Drinking, Senility, and Longevity.
- Lifestyle and Cardiovascular Disease & Mortality.
- Do Older Adults Drink Enough Alcohol for Good Health?
- Should Older People Drink Less or More Alcohol to be Healthy?
- Moderate Drinking among Older Women.
- Drinking and Frailty.
- Drinking Alcohol and Risk of Frailty.
- Drinking Alcohol and Falls among Older Adults.
- Risk of Dementia Reduced by Drinking Alcohol in Moderation.
- Drinking and Dementia, Alzheimer’s, & Memory Loss.
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Male Drinking and Long Life
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Alcohol and All-cause Death
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Alcohol and Mortality
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Type of Alcohol
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Drinking and Mortality
71. Lee, S., et al. Functional limitations, socioeconomic status, and all-cause mortality in moderate alcohol drinkers. J Am Geriat Soc. 57, 955-962.
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- At this point, you now know much more by far than most people about alcohol and health. Congrats! Also, perhaps you know of a study that should be added. If so, please contact hansondj [@] potsdam [.] edu/ In fact, many readers have helped improve this site. So thank you for any help!
- This site gives no advice. Please see your doctor for health and medical concerns.