Drinking just one extra glass of wine or pint of beer over the recommended weekly limit could cut life expectancy by 30 minutes.
That's according to a major new international study published in The Lancet medical journal.
The study found that the threshold for lowest risk of mortality was about 100g per week.
That's just five standard 175ml glasses of wine or five pints a week.
Bad news for casual drinkers — just one extra glass of wine or beer over the recommended weekly limit could cut your life expectancy by 30 minutes, according to a major new study.
Published this week in The Lancet medical journal, the study looked at how alcohol consumption guidelines vary substantially across the globe.
In the US, the suggested limit for men is 196g per week — about 11 standard glasses of wine or pints of beer — while it's 98g per week for women.
Meanwhile, the guidelines are almost 50% higher in Italy, Portugal, and Spain, while in the UK they're almost 50% lower.
With the aim of helping to formulate an evidence-based alcohol policy, the study looked at individual-participant data from 83 long-term studies across 19 high-income countries in order to better define the alcohol thresholds associated with the lowest risk or mortality and cardiovascular disease.
599,912 drinkers with no previous cardiovascular disease were categorised into eight groups according to the amount of alcohol — in grams — they consumed per week.
The study then assessed alcohol consumption in relation to "all-cause mortality" and cardiovascular disease, as well as a number of subtypes.
It found that the threshold for lowest risk of mortality was about 100g per week — which works out at just five standard 175ml glasses of wine or five pints a week.
This is despite the fact that 50% of participants reported drinking more than 100g of alcohol per week, and 8·4% drank more than 350g per week.
Men who reported drinking less than 100g alcohol per week had about a 1–2 years longer life expectancy at age 40 than those who reported drinking 196g per week, while women who reported drinking above either the UK threshold (112g per week) or US threshold (98g per week) had about 1.3 years shorter life expectancy at age 40 than women who reported drinking below the thresholds.
The study found that drinking more than 100g per week raised the risk of stroke, fatal aneurysm, heart failure, and death.
The analysis also suggested that drinkers of beer or spirits, as well as binge drinkers, had the highest risk for mortality.
Risks 'comparable to smoking'
According to a leading scientist speaking to The Guardian, the risks for a 40-year-old drinking over the recommended daily limit were comparable to smoking.
"Above two units a day, the death rates steadily climb," said David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge.
"The paper estimates a 40-year-old drinking 4 units a day above the guidelines [the equivalent of drinking three glasses of wine in a night] has roughly two years' lower life expectancy, which is around a twentieth of their remaining life. This works out at about an hour per day. So it's as if each unit above guidelines is taking, on average, about 15 minutes of life, about the same as a cigarette."
Tim Chico, professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Sheffield, said that the study "makes clear that on balance there are no health benefits from drinking alcohol, which is usually the case when things sound too good to be true," while Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, added that the study is "a serious wakeup call for many countries."
The study concluded: "These data support adoption of lower limits of alcohol consumption than are recommended in most current guidelines."