The conclusion is not new–it’s been proven before that those who abstain from alcohol altogether live shorter lives than those who drink. Alcoholics Anonymous has always given as an explanation for this pro-alcohol perspective that most abstainers in these studies are former alcoholics themselves, who have severe health problems caused by their previous alcohol-fueled lifestyle.
But that was not the case in this 20-year-long study conducted by six researchers at the University of Texas, Austin. They controlled all the normal variables–socioeconomic status, level of physical activity, number of close friends, quality of social support and so on–and with all of those things taken out of the equation, mortality rates were still highest for those who had never been drinkers, second highest for heavy drinkers, and lowest for moderate drinkers.
The statistics are rather striking. Of the 1,824 participants, 69% of the abstainers died during the 20 years, 60% of the heavy drinkers died, and only 41% of moderate drinkers died.
How can it be that those who never touch alcohol have a worse mortality rate than heavy drinkers? The study pointed to several possible factors:
- People who abstain from alcohol are commonly from a lower socioeconomic class, meaning they have more life stressors–financial worries for one thing–which can lead to heart problems.
- People who drink alcohol are getting vital stress-relief from their beverage, as well as being more likely to socialize with friends and family, another major form of stress relief.
The study is not condoning heavy drinking, of course. Being an alcoholic may not shorten your life, but it can make the life you’re living much more challenging.
Moderate drinking seems to be the way to go. The researchers defined moderate drinking as one to three drinks a day; ideally, opting for red wine.