Page last updated: Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Quantity and frequency of drinking influence mortality risk
How much and how often people drink, not just the average amount of alcohol they consume over time, independently influence the risk of death from several causes, according to a new study by researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The message of little and often is reinforced as the most beneficial pattern of drinking.

Rosalind A. Breslow, and Barry I. Graubard, examined data from a nationwide health survey conducted in 1988. Almost half of the nearly 44,000 people who participated in the survey identified themselves as current drinkers who had at least 12 drinks of alcohol during the previous year. By the end of 2002, more than 2,500 of these individuals had died. Drs. Breslow and Graubard compared their causes of death with the alcohol consumption patterns they reported in the survey.

The researchers found that, in men, alcohol frequency and quantity had opposite effects on cardiovascular mortality. The greater the amount of alcohol that men consumed on drinking days, the greater was their risk for death from cardiovascular disease. For example, men who had five or more drinks on drinking days had a 30% greater risk for cardiovascular mortality than men who had just one drink per drinking day.

Alcohol quantity was also associated with increased mortality from cancer among men. On the other hand, frequency of drinking was associated with decreased risk for death from cardiovascular disease among men — those who reported drinking 120 to 365 days per year had about 20% lower cardiovascular mortality than men who drank just one to 36 days per year.

Dr Breslow commented that previous studies have linked moderate drinking with reduced risk for death from cardiovascular disease, while heavier drinking has been linked with increased mortality. Such studies have typically measured individuals’ average alcohol intake. A drawback of that approach is that averaging obscures potential differences between people who sometimes drink heavily and those who consistently drink small amounts of alcohol.

Source: Rosalind A. Breslow and Barry I. Graubard Prospective Study of Alcohol Consumption in the United States: Quantity, Frequency, and Cause-Specific Mortality. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, March 2008.

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