This news isn’t gonna go down well: A group of researchers has studied the drinking habits of 600,000 people to determine, once and for all, the “risk thresholds associated with the lowest risk of mortality.” You won’t like the thresholds these respected scientists prescribe in their just-released Lancet article: 100 grams of alcohol per week, or about five drinks total. But perhaps the biggest gut punch is their math on the consequences you can face for drinking more than that.
No surprise, but the report finds that exceeding 100 grams increases your likelihood of a variety of terrible things — stroke, aneurysm, heart failure, etc. The researchers were able to break down drinking habits into three fairly straightforward stages: Compared to people who drink under 100 grams a week, a 40-year-old who averages 100 to 200 grams (between five and ten drinks) per week shaves off six months of life expectancy. A 40-year-old who clocks in at 200 to 350 grams (between 10 and 18 drinks) loses one to two years of life, and a maniac who downs more than 350 grams per week (more than 18 drinks) at age 40 can drop their life expectancy by as much as five years.
As one professor helpfully contextualized it for The Guardian: “[E]ach unit above guidelines is taking, on average, about 15 minutes of life.”
The guidelines nations recommend for alcohol consumption are frankly all over the map. (The U.S. classifies “moderate intake” as one daily drink for women and two for men; the limit in Italy and Spain, meanwhile, is almost 50 percent higher, and England advises both sexes not to exceed five drinks per week.) And this discrepancy in advice is exactly what researchers wanted to fix, eventually settling on their 100-gram weekly total. To get there, they analyzed 83 studies on alcohol consumption pulled from a variety of worldwide studies spanning almost 50 years and 19 countries, allowing them to compare the effects on multiple different “subtypes in current drinkers of alcohol.”