Alcohol formula

Alcohol consumption has significant health risks and no benefits for young adults

Young people (under 40) face higher health risks from alcohol consumption than older adults, a new study finds.

  • The new Global Burden of Disease analysis estimates that 1.34 billion people consumed harmful amounts of alcohol (1.03 billion men and 0.312 billion women) in 2020.
  • The analysis suggests that for young adults aged 15 to 39, there are no health benefits to drinking alcohol, only health risks. 59.1% of people who consumed dangerous amounts of alcohol in 2020 were between the ages of 15 and 39 and 76.7% were men.
  • Given the complex relationship between alcohol and disease and the different background rates of disease around the world, the risks of alcohol consumption differ by age and geographic location, the authors note.
  • The health risks associated with alcohol consumption vary by age and region for adults over 40 years of age. Consuming a small amount of alcohol (for example, drinking between one and two 3.4-ounce glasses of red wine) for people in this age group may have beneficial health effects. , such as reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and diabetes.
  • Researchers call for drinking guidelines to be revised to emphasize age-specific drinking levels. They point out that the level of alcohol consumption recommended by many existing guidelines is too high for young people in all regions. They also call for policies targeting men under 40, who are most likely to use alcohol in harmful ways.

According to a new analysis published in

The study also finds that adults aged 40 and older without underlying health conditions may see some benefits from light alcohol consumption (between one and two standard drinks per day[1]), including a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and diabetes.

Using estimates of alcohol consumption in 204 countries, the researchers calculated that 1.34 billion people worldwide consumed harmful amounts in 2020. In each region, the largest segment of the population drinking harmful amounts dangerous alcohol was men aged 15 to 39. For this age group, alcohol consumption provides no health benefits and poses many health risks. In addition, 60% of alcohol-related injuries occur among people in this age group, including motor vehicle accidents, suicides and homicides.

“Our message is simple: Young people shouldn’t drink, but older people can benefit from drinking small amounts. 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,” says lead author, Dr. Emmanuela Gakidou, Professor of Health Measurement Sciences. at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) University of WashingtonMedicine School.[2]

The Lancet Infographic on Alcohol Consumption

Alcohol consumption poses significant health risks to young people, small amounts may be beneficial for some older people. New analysis suggests recommendations for how much to drink should be based on age and local disease rates. Credit: The Lancet

Age and region should guide drinking policies

Researchers looked at the risk of alcohol consumption on 22 health conditions, including injury, cardiovascular disease and cancer.[3] using 2020 data on the global burden of disease for men and women aged 15–95 and over between 1990 and 2020, in 204 countries and territories. From this, the researchers were able to estimate the average daily alcohol consumption that minimizes risk for a population. The study also estimates another critical quantity: how much alcohol a person can drink before taking an excessive health risk compared to someone who does not drink alcohol.

The recommended amount of alcohol for people aged 15 to 39 before risking health loss was 0.136 standard drinks per day (just over a tenth of a standard drink). This amount was slightly higher for women aged 15 to 39 at 0.273 drinks (about a quarter of a standard drink per day). A standard drink is defined as 10 grams of pure alcohol, which is equivalent to a small glass of red wine (100 ml or 3.4 fluid ounces) at 13% alcohol by volume, a can or a bottle of beer ( 375 ml or 12 fluid ounces) at 3.5% alcohol by volume, or one glass of whiskey or other spirits (30 ml or 1.0 fluid ounces) at 40% alcohol by volume.[1]

The analysis also suggests that for adults aged 40 and over without any underlying health conditions, drinking a small amount of alcohol may offer some benefits, such as reduced risk of ischemic heart disease, d stroke and diabetes. In general, for people aged 40 to 64 in 2020, safe levels of alcohol consumption ranged from about half a standard drink per day (0.527 standard drink for men and 0.562 standard drink per day for women ) to nearly two standard drinks (1.69 standard drinks per day for men and 1.82 for women). For people over the age of 65 in 2020, the risks of health loss from alcohol consumption were reached after consuming just over three standard drinks per day (3.19 drinks for men and 3. 51 for women). Estimates suggest that small amounts of alcohol in populations over 40 without underlying conditions may be associated with better health outcomes, particularly in populations that primarily face a higher burden of cardiovascular disease .

The distribution of disease burden for a given age group varied greatly across regions, leading to variations in the risks associated with alcohol consumption, particularly among people aged 40 years. and more. For example, among people aged 55-59 in North Africa and the Middle East, 30.7% of alcohol-related health risks were due to cardiovascular disease, 12.6% were due to cancers and less than 1% were due to tuberculosis. In contrast, in this same age group in central sub-Saharan Africa, 20% of alcohol-related health risks were due to cardiovascular diseases, 9.8% to cancers and 10.1% to tuberculosis. As a result, drinking levels for this age group before risking health loss were 0.876 drinks (nearly one standard drink per day) in North Africa and the Middle East and 0.596 drinks (approximately half a standard glass a day) in central sub-Saharan Africa. Africa.

Overall, recommended alcohol consumption for adults remained low, between 0 and 1.87 standard drinks per day, regardless of geography, age, gender or year.

“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. Our estimates, based on currently available evidence, supports guidelines that differ by age and region Understanding variation in the level of alcohol consumption that minimizes the risk of health loss for populations can help establish effective drinking guidelines , to support alcohol control policies, to monitor progress in reducing harmful alcohol consumption and to design public health risk messages,” says lead author Dana Briazka, researcher at the IHME.

Young men most at risk of harmful alcohol use

Using these estimates, the proportion of the population consuming alcohol in amounts exceeding these thresholds by location, age, gender, and year was also calculated, serving as a guide for targeting alcohol control efforts.

Of those consuming harmful amounts of alcohol in 2020, 59.1% were aged 15-39 and 76.7% were men, with 1.03 billion men and 0.312 billion women drinking harmful amounts of alcohol. Harmful use of alcohol was particularly concentrated among young men in Australasia, Western Europe and Central Europe.

“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. Indeed, a greater proportion of men than women consume alcohol and their average level of consumption is also significantly higher,” says Dr Gakidou.

The authors acknowledge some limitations to this article, including the fact that drinking habits were not examined. Therefore, this study did not distinguish between people who rarely drink heavy episodic alcohol and those who drink the same amount of alcohol over multiple days. Alcohol consumption was also self-reported, which could have introduced bias, and the study could not include data on consumption during the period.[{” attribute=””>COVID-19 pandemic due to pandemic-related delays with routine data collection, which could also have affected these estimates.

Writing in a linked Comment, Robyn Burton and Nick Sheron of King’s College London (who were not involved in the study) say, “These findings seemingly contradict a previous GBD estimate published in The Lancet, which emphasized that any alcohol use, regardless of amount, leads to health loss across populations. There are three main differences between the two GBD publications. First, the most recent study uses data from 2020 instead of 2016. Second, the relative risk curves for five alcohol-related outcomes have been updated. However, neither of these changes is driving the differences in results. Instead, the differences are due to the novel method of weighting relative risk curves according to levels of underlying disease, alongside the calculation of more disaggregated estimates by sex, age, and geographical region. The causes that contribute to all-cause mortality vary across groups, and this changes the proportional risk of alcohol on mortality. Across most geographical regions in this latest analysis, injuries accounted for most alcohol-related harm in younger age groups. This led to a minimum risk level of zero, or very close to zero, among individuals aged 15–39 years across all geographical regions. This is lower than the level estimated for older adults, due to a shift in alcohol-related disease burden toward cardiovascular disease and cancers. This highlights the need to consider existing rates of disease in a population when trying to determine the total harm posed by alcohol.”


This study was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. A full list of GBD 2020 Alcohol Collaborators is available in the paper.

[1] A standard drink corresponds to 10 grams of pure alcohol. Examples include:

  • A small glass of red wine (100 ml or 3.4 fluid ounces) at 13% alcohol by volume;
  • A can or bottle of beer (375 ml or 12 fluid ounces) with 3.5% alcohol by volume;
  • A shot of whiskey or other spirits (30 ml or 1.0 fluid ounce) at 40% alcohol by volume.

[2] Direct quote from the author and not found in the text of the article.

[3] These health issues included:

  • Ischemic stroke, intracerebral hemorrhage, ischemic heart disease, hypertensive heart disease, atrial fibrillation and flutter;
  • Cancers including: lip and oral cavity cancer, nasopharyngeal cancer, other pharyngeal cancer, oesophageal cancer, laryngeal cancer, colon and rectal cancer, breast cancer, liver cancer;
  • Type 2 diabetes, cirrhosis and other chronic liver diseases, pancreatitis, idiopathic epilepsy, tuberculosis;
  • Transportation injuries, unintentional injuries, self-harm and interpersonal violence.

Reference: “Population-level alcohol consumption risks by amount, geography, age, sex, and year: A systematic analysis for the 2020 Global Burden of Disease Study” by GBD 2020 Alcohol Collaborators, July 16, 2022, The Lancet.
DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(22)00847-9