Research Continues to Show There Are No Health Benefits of Drinking Alcohol

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Research from the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research at the University of Victoria in British Columbia has shown that several older studies claiming alcohol consumption may have had some health benefits were deeply flawed. Conversely, new data shows that even “moderate” drinking, when done over time, poses a serious risk to an individual’s health and vitality.

What the New Findings Show

Researchers recently sought to determine if the old claim made by several studies that moderate drinking can help improve health outcomes was legitimate. According to their findings, it isn’t. Study co-author Tim Stockwell wrote in the researchers’ paper that the potential health benefits of “moderate” alcohol use vanish when inherent flaws and biases within the studies that suggested those benefits are exposed and examined. “Low-level or moderate drinking is roughly defined between one drink per week and two drinks per day,” said Stockwell when asked to comment on his team’s research. “That’s the amount of alcohol that many studies, if you look at them uncritically, suggest reduces your risk of dying prematurely.” The idea that alcohol has health benefits has always been controversial and hotly debated, so Stockwell and his team sought to put the matter to rest once and for all by closely examining dozens of studies that made that claim.

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Stockwell pointed out that many of those studies place former drinkers in the same group as lifetime abstainers, which is unfair to lifetime abstainers because former drinkers are 22% more likely to die prematurely than abstainers are. When former drinkers are allotted into the same category as lifetime abstainers and compared to current moderate drinkers, one can see how moderate drinkers may appear healthier. “Their [former drinkers] presence in the ‘non-drinker’ group biases the results, creating the illusion that light daily drinking is healthy,” said Stockwell. For the new body of research, Stockwell and his colleagues closely examined 107 studies that assessed nearly five million participants from multiple countries. Stockwell and his group removed the inherent biases in those studies while assessing them.

The findings were informative. Neither occasional drinkers nor low-volume drinkers experienced any health benefits from drinking. Individuals who drank regularly had slightly worse health outcomes than those who did not drink and were not former drinkers. Those who drank a significant volume of alcohol and who did so often had significantly higher incidences of harmful health outcomes.

Statistics Associated with Alcohol Abuse

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, about 23% of the U.S. population over 18 drinks alcohol to excess at least once per month. That figure represents about 59 million U.S. adults. Another 16 million U.S. adults (6% of the adult population) engages in heavy drinking, defined as drinking alcohol excessively at least five times per month. Based on the NIAAA’s findings, at least 29.5 million Americans meet the criteria for alcohol addiction.

A huge swath of the country is affected by alcohol addiction, and that group suffers tremendously because of it. The above-cited report shows that 140,000 Americans die from alcohol-related use each year, making alcohol misuse one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. Unfortunately, that number is increasing yearly, from 79,000 in 2019 to 99,000 in 2020 and from 99,000 in 2020 to a staggering 140,000 in 2021.

Alcohol misuse also leads to emergencies that are not necessarily fatal but which are quite debilitating. Just between 2006 and 2014, the rate of alcohol-related emergency department visits increased by 47%, translating to an additional 210,000 alcohol-related ER visits. Alcohol-related harm accounts for about 18% of all ER visits nationwide.

Not only is alcohol consumption harmful to Americans and a leading cause of death and overall health concern, but the societal burden of alcohol addiction in America affects all residents. The U.S. spends about $249 billion addressing the harm caused by alcohol-related incidences each year, most attributed to binge drinking.

Alcohol abuse is also devastating for U.S. families, even if only one person within the family is afflicted with alcohol addiction. For example, more than 10% of American children live with at least one parent who has an alcohol addiction. Children who grow up in such homes are four times more likely to suffer from alcohol addiction later in life than children who grow up in homes where neither parent is addicted.

How Alcohol Affects the Body

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Beyond the statistics cited above, it’s also worth highlighting the harm alcohol consumption has on the human body. The NIAAA reports at least 47% of the roughly 100,000 liver disease deaths in the last year involved alcohol having a fatal effect on the individual’s liver.

Research also shows people who drink alcohol to excess have a greater risk of liver disease, heart disease, depression, stroke, and stomach bleeding. Such individuals are also at greater risk for oral cavity cancers and cancers of the esophagus, larynx, pharynx, liver, colon, and rectum. There is also a connection between alcohol misuse and higher risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, pain, and sleep disorders.

Alcohol, accidents, and injuries also often go hand-in-hand. Alcohol consumption is directly tied to an increased risk of drowning and injuries from violence, falls, and motor vehicle crashes. Alcohol can affect one’s children, too, as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FAS) can occur in the offspring of women who consume alcohol during their pregnancy.

Alcohol consumption – whether in just a few instances or overtime – harms several key organs and systems within the body, including:

  • The Brain. Alcohol interferes with and hampers the brain’s communication pathways. It affects how the brain looks and works, disrupting mood and behavior and making it more difficult to think clearly and move with coordination.
  • The Heart. Drinking alcohol to excess, whether over time or on a single occasion, can cause serious damage to the heart, leading to conditions like high blood pressure, stroke, arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat), and cardiomyopathy (a stretching or drooping of the heart muscle).
  • The Liver. As highlighted earlier, alcohol consumption seriously affects the liver, leading to several health conditions like steatosis, fibrosis, cirrhosis, and alcoholic hepatitis, to name a few.
  • Pancreas. Alcohol chemicals in the human body cause the pancreas to produce toxic substances. Such substances can eventually lead to pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is a serious health condition involving a dangerous inflammation of the blood vessels in the pancreas.
  • Alcohol and Cancer. As mentioned earlier, there is a direct connection between alcohol consumption and cancer. Quoting the National Cancer Institute’s summary of its research in the area of alcohol and cancer, “The evidence indicates that the more alcohol a person drinks—particularly the more alcohol a person drinks regularly over time—the higher his or her risk of developing an alcohol-associated cancer. Even those who have no more than one drink per day and people who binge drink (those who consume 4 or more drinks for women and 5 or more drinks for men in one sitting) have a modestly increased risk of some cancers. Based on data from 2009, an estimated 3.5% of cancer deaths in the United States (about 19,500 deaths) were alcohol related.”
“The evidence indicates that the more alcohol a person drinks—particularly the more alcohol a person drinks regularly over time—the higher his or her risk of developing an alcohol-associated cancer…”

Alcohol affects everyone differently, and those who drink may suffer alcohol-related harms not listed above.

Get Help for Those Addicted

Because alcohol consumption has become so commonplace and accepted within American society, it can become difficult to assess when someone who drinks alcohol is addicted to alcohol. However, there are some ways to quickly tell if someone is addicted to alcohol (or at least to get a good idea that they might be addicted).

If you know someone whose consumption of alcohol has begun to harm their life or the lives of those around them, someone who cannot control their drinking despite those harms and who cannot stop drinking on their own, please help that individual seek treatment at a qualified, residential alcohol addiction treatment center. Please don’t wait until it is too late for them, and they become just one of the many statistics listed above.

Sources Cited:

  • JAMA. “Association Between Daily Alcohol Intake and Risk of All-Cause Mortality.” Journal of the American Medical Association, 2023.
  • USNews. “Drinking Alcohol Brings No Health Benefits, Study Finds.” U.S. News, 2023.
  • NIAAA. “Alcohol’s Effects on Health.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2023.
  • NIAAA. “Alcohol’s Effects on Health.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2023.
  • NIH. “Alcohol and Cancer Risk.” National Cancer Institute, 2023.



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.