But a new paper in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research suggests that – for reasons that aren’t entirely clear – abstaining from alcohol does actually tend to increase one’s risk of dying even when you exclude former drinkers. The most shocking part? Abstainers’ mortality rates are higher than those of heavy drinkers. But why would abstaining from alcohol lead to a shorter life? It’s true that those who abstain from alcohol tend to be from lower socioeconomic classes, since drinking can be expensive. And people of lower socioeconomic status have more life stressors – job and child-care worries that might not only keep them from the bottle but also cause stress-related illnesses over long periods. (They also don’t get the stress-reducing benefits of a drink or two after work.)

But even after controlling for nearly all imaginable variables – socioeconomic status, level of physical activity, number of close friends, quality of social support and so on – the researchers (a six-member team led by psychologist Charles Holahan of the University of Texas at Austin) found that over a 20-year period, mortality rates were highest for those who had never been drinkers, second-highest for heavy drinkers and lowest for moderate drinkers. The sample of those who were studied included individuals between ages 55 and 65 who had had any kind of outpatient care in the previous three years. The 1,824 participants were followed for 20 years. One drawback of the sample: a disproportionate number, 63%, were men. Just over 69% of the never-drinkers died during the 20 years, 60% of the heavy drinkers died and only 41% of moderate drinkers died.

These are remarkable statistics. Even though heavy drinking is associated with higher risk for cirrhosis and several types of cancer (particularly cancers in the mouth and esophagus), heavy drinkers are less likely to die than people who have never drunk.

Don’t you love it when a study supports your guilty pleasures?

  1. Glenn E. says:

    This might be true for a few reasons. One. Heavy drinkers are the ones running down and killing non-drinkers, with their huge cars. They get larger vehicles to make themselves safer, from all the accidence they know they’re likely to have. And for some reason, even when hitting another vehicle, Drunk drivers seem to come away with fewer injuries. Or non-fatal ones. So maybe the booze relaxes them more. But I think it mainly because they’re all driving pickups, SUVs, and Caddies.

    Two. Anyone who can afford to get drunk on a regular basis. Probably has a decent income. Maybe even a quite high income. Bored, rich people, often turn to drink. At least the stereotype says they do. So, they’re also likely to have very good health coverage. That’s saving them from all the other nasty things, that could kill them off. Like cancer. Whereas the non-drinker, may not be as well covered. Because they’re already on a tight budget. And can afford getting “tight” in other ways.


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