Moderate Drinking Helps Middle-Aged and Older People Live Longer, Research Shows

Aug. 27, 2010

AUSTIN, Texas — Moderate drinking, about one to two drinks per day, reduces mortality among older and middle-aged adults, according to new research from The University of Texas at Austin.

In a study to appear in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, Charles Holahan, professor of psychology at The University of Texas at Austin, and colleagues at The University of Texas and Stanford University's Center for Health Care Evaluation found the health benefits of drinking among older adults are intrinsically linked to moderation.

Using data gathered from a larger study of late-life patterns of drinking, the researchers followed 1,824 older adults (1,142 men, 682 women) between the ages of 55 and 65 who were former or current drinkers for 20 years. The information collected included: daily alcohol consumption, sociodemographic factors, former problem-drinking status, health factors and social behavioral factors.

Findings show a substantial part of the survival effect for moderate drinking among older adults is explained by confounding factors associated with alcohol abstention. Compared to moderate drinkers, abstainers in the study sample included many former problem drinkers and individuals with more health problems and health risk factors (such as lower physical activity and more cigarette smoking) compared to moderate drinkers.

The researchers also found those who drank moderately were more likely to live longer across a 20-year follow-up than those who drank heavily or who didn't drink at all. The findings showed increases in mortality risk of 42 percent for heavy drinkers and 49 percent for abstainers in comparison to moderate drinkers.

Despite the health benefits of moderate drinking, Holahan emphasizes the need for common sense. One or two drinks a day may be beneficial for some, but drinking a lot more can be dangerous, he said.

"Older persons drinking alcohol should remember that consuming more than two drinks a day exceeds recommended alcohol consumption guidelines in the United States and is associated with increased falls, a higher risk of alcohol use problems and potential adverse interactions with medications," Holahan said.

For more information, contact: Jessica Sinn, College of Liberal Arts, 512-471-2404; Charles J. Holahan, professor of psychology, 512-471-3320; Sherry Wasilow-Mueller, science writer, Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research; Allison A. Moore, professor of medicine and psychiatry, the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, 310-206-8272.

34 Comments to "Moderate Drinking Helps Middle-Aged and Older People Live Longer, Research Shows"

1.  martin scolnick said on Aug. 30, 2010

Please tell me who funded this research.

2.  shawn said on Sept. 1, 2010

could you give me a more detail web page or document?? is a school thing to find article and answer some question with it

3.  virginia higginbotham said on Sept. 2, 2010

A report on ABC news just last night (9/1/10) states
that any alcohol increases women's chances of
getting breast cancer. Your study is based primarily
on males. Perhaps you should include more females.

4.  Judy Dean said on Sept. 2, 2010

You're saying that abstainers had a 7% increase in mortality over heavy drinkers as compared to moderate drinkers. Does that make sense? Not to me. The study appears to have been heavily skewed by the selection of abstainers who were former problem drinkers and abstainers with other health problems. How about doing a study with normal, healthy abstainers to isolate the alcohol factor???

5.  Susan Sharlot said on Sept. 2, 2010

The Austin American-Statesman (Wed., Sept. 1, 2010, p. A6) said 2-3 drinks a day constitute moderate drinking, and here on the UT website it says 1-2. Which # of drinks did the study confirm?

Thank you.

6.  helen said on Sept. 2, 2010

It would be interesting to have the abstainers or very occasional drinkers in moderation sorted out from the former "problem drinkers."

How much of the higher mortality is among the latter group?

7.  Charlie Kinne said on Sept. 2, 2010 indicates that the Journal itself was founded by Founded by the National Council on Alcoholism.

8.  Sherry Thompson said on Sept. 2, 2010

We are having several of our friends being diagnosed with alcoholism. I have read the documents published by the government. The articles states that drinking one drink a day puts an individual at risk. So are you defining moderate drinking as around one drink per day. We are 54 years of age and the friends are around that age also.
Thank you.

9.  Susan Sharlot said on Sept. 2, 2010

The Austin American-Statesman article (Wed., Sept 1, 2010 p. A6) says, "...even after excluding results from past problem drinkers and people with poor health status..., moderate drinkers still lived longer than nondrinkers." The UT website summary does not include this information. Is the Statesman summary correct?

10.  Charles Isbell said on Sept. 2, 2010

Does the consumption of alcohol preserve the body (like in my bug collection)?

11.  Charles Isbell said on Sept. 2, 2010

Does "moderate drinking" better preserve the human

12.  Louis said on Sept. 2, 2010

Balance is the key, not less, and not much.

13.  Lynne Sims said on Sept. 2, 2010

What kind of statistical controls did the researchers apply to adjust for the confunding factors?

Findings show a substantial part of the survival effect for moderate drinking among older adults is explained by confounding factors associated with alcohol abstention. Compared to moderate drinkers, abstainers in the study sample included many former problem drinkers and individuals with more health problems and health risk factors (such as lower physical activity and more cigarette smoking) compared to moderate drinkers.

14.  Elizabeth McCullough said on Sept. 2, 2010

So you don't know about life-long healthy abstainers?

15.  steve bunn said on Sept. 2, 2010

My greatuncle Copeland drank moderatly as you"ve spoken of in your studies. from home made "shine". He was a w.w.2 veteran and the remedy was passed down from many generations. He was in his late 70"s when he died only after the doctor had him to stop drinking. I think maybe he would have lived longer with his morning and evening tardy, perhaps it thinned his blood, his death was from a blood clott.

16.  Matt S said on Sept. 2, 2010

Great question. I'd like to know that as well.

17.  Bruce said on Sept. 2, 2010

Probably. In my case better as well.

18.  charlie said on Sept. 3, 2010

The study is right. You live longer, but does it tell you how your brain synapses do not work. Yes, I am in AA. I have seen old and young not come. Then you hear that that person (alcoholic/human) has passed on. You do not know the mind of an alcoholic unless you are an alcoholic. Alana Club, Oceanside, Calif.

19.  margaret said on Sept. 3, 2010

Who funded this research? It sounds dubious to me.

20.  Dr. Higgs Boson said on Sept. 3, 2010

Interesting the Russian government recently made the same point encouraging its populace to drink more. Governmental control of the masses by clouding their judgment?

Is there a link available to read the actual study/data?


21.  Maruf Khan said on Sept. 5, 2010

As far as the number goes: One to two or two to three is all subjective. Depends greatly on the size of the individual. If you are a big person, then three drinks for you maybe the same as one or two drinks for a smaller person. Different studies have used different criteria but on average somewhere between one to three drinks (depending on your body size and gender) can be considered moderate drinking. And of course if you are going to drink regularly go for red wine which has the added benefit of resveratrol (look up the French Paradox).

22.  Rosa uribe said on Sept. 6, 2010

Please remember that this is one study and that dozens of more studies are needed before anyone concludes that drinking during later life extends lifespan. The title of the article needs to reflect that. It should have been something like "A study finds potential link between moderate drinking in older people and increased longevity."

23.  Barbara said on Sept. 7, 2010

I agree that the study sounds dubious -- and Dr. Higgs Boson makes a great point.

24.  rita said on Sept. 7, 2010

Well, I don't feel well when I drink and can't imagine that making myself feel badly would increase my lifespan. It would appear to me that those who were problem drinkers damaged their health and decreased their lifespans long before their abstinence had an opportunity to decrease their lifespans! Why would a study like this include former problem drinkers? How could the data obtained in this study be considered accurate? Guess I'm not very bright, but I can't see that this is a useful or reliable study.

25.  Isabel said on Sept. 7, 2010

I believe there are too many variables to make such a simple statement. Both my parents lived to the age of 85 and were three years apart in age. One a moderate drinker, as the article defines, and the other never drank.
Definitely would want to review the study in whole.

26.  Trudy's Fan said on Sept. 8, 2010

Does a shaker of a Mexican martini from Trudy's count as one drink? If so, I will have two of those after work today! Woo-hoo! Here's to healthy living!

27.  Matthew Britt said on Sept. 8, 2010

Wait, the abstainers had previous health problems? So basically the people who didn't drink didn't do so because their health was already in bad shape, therefore they were already more likely to have a shorter life. If they want to claim drinking helps people live a longer life, they need to choose people who don't abstain because of health problems or prior problem drinking, but because they don't want to drink. Maybe the selection of abstainers was biased to create this result, which many college students and others would probably like.

28.  Hua said on Sept. 10, 2010

There are so many factors that can affect how long you live. Life is short. Drink as you like as long as you don't become an alcoholic.

29.  jinuk, Baek said on Sept. 13, 2010

I totally agree.

30.  Jeanne Ahlin said on Sept. 15, 2010

My parents are 88 and 89 and drank too much their whole lives. They may be alive but their brains are fried and I have to take care of them. Did the researchers check on the quality of life of these drinkers? I am an abstainer after seeing all of the alcoholism in my family.

31.  Max said on Sept. 25, 2010

The benefits of moderate alcohol intake have been known for a long time. The benefits of drinking, even heavily, over abstaining remain even when former drinkers are factored out. Drinking is good for you as long as you don't get addicted. And alcohol isn't as addictive as they would have you believe either. For some reason the idea of alcohol not being so bad offends a lot of people here. Probably because they don't drink, which is why they sit inside and post comments on the internet.

32.  Rachel said on Sept. 29, 2010

Alcohol is expensive compared to other beverages. People who can afford to add this to their grocery lists for reasons other than need-based alcoholic tendencies are probably living in a higher socio-economic class than people who never drink alcohol because it costs too much, or drink cases of Natural Light or bottles of cheap vodka just to function. The 'two glasses of wine each evening' crowd have more money - which in itself is linked to better health and life longevity.

33.  Reason said on Oct. 2, 2010

The researchers have made a great start, and it will be exciting to read about the follow-up studies. Even after controlling for several factors, the risk was elevated for those who abstain. Addressing post number 7, the journal the study was published in is not pertinent to the financier of the research. Post number 20, the full text is available online.

34.  bob said on Nov. 10, 2010

Does anybody have rebound insomnia from the moderate (2-3 drinks) drinking. It seems the only discription change from moderate drinking (1-3) to heavy drinking ("a lot more") is obscure. I'm not sure the rebound insomnia wouldn't lead to my death quicker than the "lot more" say 5-6 and sleep soundly. I know the no-brainer for me would be to quit but is there any study on this for us folks who don't want to give it up?