No amount of booze is good for your overall health, according to a new analysis of 2016 global alcohol consumption and disease risk.
Alcohol was the leading risk factor for disease and premature death in men and women between the ages of 15 and 49 worldwide in 2016, accounting for nearly one in 10 deaths, according to the research.
Globally, one in three people drink alcohol – the equivalent to 2.4 billion people.
Alcohol is responsible for 2.8 million deaths each year worldwide, according to the new research.
The study, published in The Lancet, shows that alcohol is a leading risk factor for death and disease worldwide, and is associated with nearly one in 10 deaths in people aged 15 to 49.
2.2 per cent of women and 6.8 per cent of men die from alcohol-related health problems each year.
Alcohol use was ranked as the seventh leading risk factor for premature death and disability worldwide in 2016, and was the leading cause for people aged 15 to 49.
In that age group it is associated with tuberculosis, road injuries, and self-harm.
For people aged 50 and older, cancers were a leading cause of alcohol-related death, constituting 27.1 per cent of deaths in women and 18.9 per cent of deaths in men.
Based on their analysis, researchers say there is no safe level of alcohol as beneficial effects against ischemic heart disease are outweighed by the adverse effects on other areas of health, particularly cancers.
The researchers estimated levels of alcohol use and health effects in 195 countries between 1990 and 2016.
They calculated that drinking one alcoholic drink a day for a year – such as a small glass of red wine, a can or bottle of beer, or a shot of whiskey or other spirit – increases the risk of developing one of 23 alcohol-related health problems by 0.5 per cent in those aged 15 to 95, compared with not drinking at all.
The figure increased to seven per cent in people who drank two drinks a day and 37 per cent in people who drank five drinks every day for a year,
Study lead author Dr Max Griswold, of the University of Washington in the US, said: “Previous studies have found a protective effect of alcohol on some conditions, but we found that the combined health risks associated with alcohol increase with any amount of alcohol.
“In particular, the strong association between alcohol consumption and the risk of cancer, injuries, and infectious diseases offset the protective effects for ischaemic heart disease in women in our study.
“Although the health risks associated with alcohol starts off being small with one drink a day, they then rise rapidly as people drink more.
“Policies focusing on reducing alcohol consumption to the lowest levels will be important to improve health.
“The widely held view of the health benefits of alcohol needs revising, particularly as improved methods and analyses continue to shed light on how much alcohol contributes to global death and disability.”
The researchers used figures from 694 previous studies to estimate how common drinking alcohol is worldwide and used 592 studies including 28 million people to study the health risks associated with alcohol between 1990 to 2016 in 195 countries.
They combined alcohol sales data with the prevalence of alcohol drinking and abstinence, self-reported data on the amount of alcohol drank, tourism data to estimate the number of alcohol-drinking visitors to an area, and estimating levels of illicit trade and home brewing.
The researchers found that, on average, each day women consumed 0.73 alcoholic drinks, and men drank 1.7 drinks.
The highest number of current alcohol drinkers was in Denmark while the lowest were in Pakistan for men (0.8 per cent) and Bangladesh for women (0.3 per cent).
Men in Romania and women in Ukraine drank the most, 8.2 and 4.2 drinks a day respectively.
Globally, drinking alcohol was the seventh leading risk factor for premature death and disease in 2016.
The researchers found that there was only a protective effect between alcohol and ischemic heart disease, and there were possible protective effects for diabetes and ischemic stroke but they were not statistically significant.
The risk of developing all other health problems increased with the number of alcoholic drinks consumed each day.
Comparing no drinks with one drink a day the risk of developing one of the 23 alcohol-related health problems was 0.5 per cent higher – meaning 914 people in 100,000 aged 15 to 95 would develop a condition if they did not drink, but 918 people in 100,000 who drank one alcoholic drink a day would develop an alcohol-related health problem in a year.
The figure increased to seven per cent in people who drank two drinks a day or 977 in 100,000, and 37 per cent in people who drank five drinks every day or 1,252 in 100,000.
Professor Emmanuela Gakidou, of the University of Washington, added: “Alcohol poses dire ramifications for future population health in the absence of policy action today.
“Our results indicate that alcohol use and its harmful effects on health could become a growing challenge as countries become more developed, and enacting or maintaining strong alcohol control policies will be vital.
“Worldwide we need to revisit alcohol control policies and health programmes, and to consider recommendations for abstaining from alcohol.
“These include excise taxes on alcohol, controlling the physical availability of alcohol and the hours of sale, and controlling alcohol advertising.
“Any of these policy actions would contribute to reductions in population-level consumption, a vital step toward decreasing the health loss associated with alcohol use.”
Dr Robyn Burton, of King’s College London, described the study as the most comprehensive estimate of the global burden of alcohol to date.
She added: “The conclusions of the study are clear and unambiguous: alcohol is a colossal global health issue and small reductions in health-related harms at low levels of alcohol intake are outweighed by the increased risk of other health-related harms, including cancer.
“There is strong support here for the guideline published by the Chief Medical Officer of the UK who found that there is ‘no safe level of alcohol consumption.’
“The findings have further ramifications for public health policy, and suggest that policies that operate by decreasing population-level consumption should be prioritised.
“The solutions are straightforward: increasing taxation creates income for hard-pressed health ministries, and reducing the exposure of children to alcohol marketing has no downsides.”
By Ben Gelblum and Stephen Beech