Do not drink before 40? Study finds no benefit of alcohol for young people

SEATTLE— Should the new age limit for alcohol be 40? A new study indicates that avoiding alcohol is the only way young people can avoid risking harm to their health.

The results reveal that just one drink a day is too much for someone under 40, however, there could be some health benefits for older people. The scientists say the guidelines should be revised to emphasize consumption levels by age and also by location, based on disease rates in different parts of the world.

“Our message is simple: Young people shouldn’t drink, but older people can benefit from drinking small amounts,” says lead author Professor Emmanuela Gakidou from the University of Washington. Press release.

“While it may not be realistic to think that young adults will abstain from drinking, we believe it is important to communicate the latest evidence so that everyone can make informed decisions about their health.”

The study authors believe initiatives should target young men as they are most likely to drink heavily, particularly those from Western and Central Europe and Australasia.

“Although the risks associated with alcohol consumption are similar for men and women, young men stand out as the group with the highest level of harmful alcohol consumption,” Professor Gakidou continues. “This is because a greater proportion of men than women consume alcohol, and their average level of consumption is also significantly higher.”

More than a billion people drank too much in 2020

The ongoing Global Burden of Disease study estimates that 1.34 billion people consumed harmful levels of alcohol – 1.03 billion men and 0.312 billion women – in 2020 alone.

It found that drinking alcohol brings no health benefits to 15-39 year olds – only risks. Almost six in ten people (59%) who consumed dangerous amounts of alcohol were in this age group, more than three-quarters of whom were men.

However, in people over 40, the study finds that a glass or two of red wine a day can protect against cardiovascular disease, stroke and diabetes. They explain that black grapes are rich in antioxidants.

The study in The Lancet is the first to say that young people face higher alcohol-related health risks than older adults, even if they consume the same amount.

The results were based on consumption estimates in 204 countries and territories. They were compared to 22 health conditions, including injuries, cardiovascular disease and cancers. The international team analyzed data from men and women aged 15 to 95 between 1990 and 2020.

In each region, the largest segment of the population drinking dangerous amounts was males between the ages of 15 and 39. Sixty percent of alcohol-related injuries occurred among people in this age group, including motor vehicle accidents, suicides and murders.

How Much Should People Really Drink?

The results allowed the team to calculate the average daily alcohol consumption that minimizes risk for a population. They also showed how much a person can drink before taking an excessive health risk compared to a teetotaler.

The recommendation for ages 15 to 39 is 0.136 standard drinks per day, or just over a tenth. It is slightly higher for female peers at 0.273 – about a quarter of a glass.

Health experts define a standard drink as 10 grams of pure alcohol, the equivalent of a small glass of red wine, a bottle of beer, or a glass of whiskey or other spirits. For those aged 40 to 64, safe levels of alcohol consumption ranged from about half a drink a day to nearly two for both men and women. For people over 65, the health risk increased after consuming just over three drinks a day. In healthy people over the age of 40, small amounts may improve health, especially in populations that primarily face a higher burden of cardiovascular disease.

“Even if a conservative approach is taken and the lowest level of safe drinking is used to set policy recommendations, this implies that the recommended level of alcohol consumption is still too high for younger populations,” says lead author, Dr. Dana Bryazka.

“Our estimates, based on currently available evidence, support guidelines that differ by age and region,” Bryazka concludes. “Understanding the variation in the level of alcohol consumption that minimizes the risk of health loss for populations can help establish effective drinking guidelines, support alcohol control policies, track progress in reducing of harmful alcohol consumption and to design public health risk messages.”

About one in three people in the world – 2.5 billion – drink alcohol. Each year, 2.2% of women and 6.8% of men die from alcohol-related health problems. These include cancer, tuberculosis and liver disease. Other harmful consequences of alcohol consumption include accidents and incidents of violence.

South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.

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