Drinking Just One Extra Beer or Wine Can Shorten Your Life By 15 Minutes, Says Sobering New Study

We still say it’s worth it.

woman drinking wine/getty

Even those of us who love the booze know that drinking heavily isn’t great for you. 

Despite those cheery scientific studies that assure us that drinking beer is actually good for you (and there are a bunch), or that boozing during traveling will help you avoid getting sick on the plane, it’s a safe bet that drinking like a depraved beast isn’t going to improve your quality of life. Other than occasionally making it way more fun, of course.  

So yet another major new study about booze is here, and this time it comes with a sobering warning: that drinking just one extra glass of wine or beer over the recommended weekly limit could cut your life expectancy by 15 minutes.

That actually seems like a bargain most drinkers would be OK with, to be honest, but let’s take a look at the details, courtesy of Business Insider, which relays that drinking above the recommended weekly amount is akin to smoking a cigarette, for what it’s worth.

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 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.

(Photo: Getty)

599,912 drinkers with no previous cardiovascular disease were categorized 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.

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.

Long story short, the study found that drinking more than 100g per week raised the risk of stroke, fatal aneurysm, heart failure, and death.

According to a scientist who spoke to The Guardian, the risks for a 40-year-old man drinking over the recommended daily limit were pretty 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.”

Fair enough. But if you enjoy drinking to excess, is shaving a few minutes off your life really that big of a deal? Feel free to hash it out over a few beers this weekend.