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Moderate Alcohol Consumption Is Not Associated with Reduced All-cause Mortality


A large body of research suggests that light or moderate alcohol consumption is associated with reduced all-cause mortality. However, concerns remain that the observed relationship is due to selection bias, misclassification of ex-drinkers, or residual confounding.


The association between alcohol consumption and all-cause mortality was analyzed using Cox regression. The analysis was performed using data from the Health and Retirement Study, a longitudinal cohort of 24,029 individuals from a nationally representative sample of US adults aged more than 50 years. Drinking level was based on alcohol consumption measured at 3 points over the 4 years before the start of follow-up. Occasional drinkers—those who reported drinking on at least 1 occasion, but always less than once per week—served as the reference category. There was extensive adjustment for sociodemographic variables, health status, and functional status.


During 206,966 person-years of follow up, 7902 individuals died. No level of regular alcohol consumption was associated with reduced all-cause mortality. The hazard ratio and 95% confidence interval in fully adjusted analyses was 1.02 (0.94-1.11) for <7 drinks/week, 1.14 (1.02-1.28) for 7 to <14 drinks/week, 1.13 (0.96-1.35) for 14 to <21 drinks/week, and 1.45 (1.16-1.81) for ≥21 drinks/week.


Moderate alcohol consumption is not associated with reduced all-cause mortality in older adults. The previously observed association may have been due to residual confounding.

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-Robert Goulden, MBBS, MSc, MPhil, MA

This article originally appeared in the February 2016 issue of The American Journal of Medicine.

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