Page last updated:March 14, 2014
Binge drinking greatly increases mortality risk among moderate drinkers

This study was based on a sample of “late-middle-aged” (55-65 years old at baseline) community residents who were recruited from the western part of the United States to participate in a study of late-life alcohol consumption and drinking problems. The present analyses evaluated association between episodic heavy drinking and total mortality among 446 adults who were considered to be “moderate” drinkers. The authors report that the 74 moderate drinkers who engaged in episodic heavy drinking (“binge drinking”) had more than two times higher odds of 20-year mortality than moderate drinkers who did not binge drink.

An association between binge drinking and health outcomes has been demonstrated in epidemiologic studies for decades. Many (but not all) studies have shown an approximately two-fold increase in the risk of adverse outcomes for binge drinkers, in comparison with moderate drinkers who do not binge drink. In reviewing the present study, Forum members commented on the small number of subjects (only 74 binge drinkers in the analysis), and some other analytic weaknesses (e.g., no data on potential changes in drinking habits over 20 years, inadequate control of some potential confounders, results not applicable to the general population as some subjects were recruited because of previous alcohol misuse). Nevertheless, the results of the study support adverse effects on mortality of such a drinking pattern.

There are now considerable scientific data indicating harmful health effects of episodic excessive drinking in terms of coronary heart disease, other diseases of ageing, and mortality. Simply knowing the average intake of subjects over a period of time is inadequate for classifying their alcohol consumption. For middle-aged and older subjects the drinking pattern that has been shown to be associated with the most favorable health outcomes (including greater longevity of life) is regular, light-to-moderate intake, especially when the alcoholic beverage is consumed with food.

Reference: Holahan CJ, Schutte KK, Brennan PL, Holahan CK, Moos RH. Episodic heavy drinking and 20-year total mortality among late-life moderate drinkers. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 2014; pre-publication; DOI: 10.1111/acer.12381.

For the full critique of this paper by members of the International Scientific Forum on Alcohol Research, please click here. 
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