The Latest Scientific Advice On Drinking Alcohol: Don't.

Aug 24, 2018
Originally published on August 24, 2018 5:26 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

A new study out this week on the risks of consuming alcohol comes to a stark conclusion. When it comes to your health, it may be best not to drink at all. The study was published in the medical journal The Lancet and collected massive amounts of data on drinking from around the world. NPR's Allison Aubrey is here in the studio to talk more about it. Hey there, Allison.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Hey there, Audie.

CORNISH: So how does this study add to the conversation about how much is too much when it comes to drinking?

AUBREY: Well, it has certainly captured our attention, right? These researchers did a really deep dive to analyze alcohol consumption around the globe. They looked at the findings from almost 700 studies that included more than 25 million people. Now, we have reported many times on studies suggesting that moderate consumption of alcohol may be protective of good health. But these researchers conclude that any beneficial effect of alcohol is offset by the risks - not just increased risks of, say, heart disease or cancers, but also risks such as car crashes or other injuries.

CORNISH: So no amount of alcohol is safe. And with that news, you've upset many people...

AUBREY: (Laughter).

CORNISH: ... Especially on a (laughter) Friday afternoon.

AUBREY: I am sure that is true. And there is a lot of room for interpretation of these findings. I would say, you know, it is true that if you want zero risk of being in a car crash, you don't get in a car, or zero risk of any alcohol-related injury or illness, you do not drink at all. But there is plenty of data to support the argument that drinking in moderation is OK.

CORNISH: Let's get into this a little more. Does gender matter? Does moderation or how much you're drinking matter?

AUBREY: Sure. I mean, currently the official advice on this comes from the U.S. Dietary Guidelines. Moderate drinking is defined as no more than one drink a day for women, no more than two for men. And we're not talking a big chalice full of wine. I mean, a glass of wine is defined as five ounces, so sort of small-ish. A beer, one drink, is 12-ounce serving of beer. You know, I was at a professional soccer game earlier this week. And I noticed people walking around with these big microbrews in these huge servings, probably 20 ounces. So it can be hard to limit, especially given all the oversized servings out there.

CORNISH: This is a new global study. Do you think it'll change how health authorities in the U.S. think about their current recommendations?

AUBREY: I do. I think it's probably not realistic to tell people, hey, don't drink at all. I mean, alcohol is everywhere. About 1 in 3 adults around the globe drink. And here in the U.S., I think we're at this moment in time when acceptance of alcohol is very high.

Several states have liberalized their alcohol laws. For instance, New York just two years ago passed what was dubbed the Brunch Bill to allow restaurants to sell alcohol earlier on Sundays. Georgia has a similar effort, a law that's been called the Mimosa Mandate. I mean, I think in some ways we've given a cultural green light to the idea that a bottomless mimosa is OK. So when a study like this comes along, it grabs our attention because it's saying, hey, wait a second. Drinking can be risky.

CORNISH: So what do you think the advice on alcohol consumption will be going forward? And I realize (laughter) you've just told me over and over again...

AUBREY: (Laughter).

CORNISH: ...Is don't have any.

AUBREY: Well, certainly not everyone agrees with this conclusion that no amount of alcohol is safe. I mean, earlier this summer, another study came out. It found up to one drink a day was OK for most people. I mean, the increases in the risk of, say, heart disease and cancers generally occur when you drink more than that. I mean, the more you drink, the higher the risk. What I would expect going forward is that instead of hearing the advice, oh, two drinks every day is fine for men, we'll begin to hear more messages of moderation such as, hey, don't drink every day. Dial it back.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Allison Aubrey. Allison, thank you.

AUBREY: Thanks so much.

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