It’s healthier to drink a small amount daily than to binge (5 or more drinks for men, 4 or more for women) on weekends or special occasions. However, other major organizations like the World Health Organization and the World Heart Federation have warned that there’s no safe level of alcohol consumption. Since most alcohol studies were observational, other factors in people’s lives could have influenced their health outcomes. Some biases in the studies came from not considering age, financial wealth, and sex when analyzing the results. Others failed to consider people’s decisions in life, such as how often they smoked or exercised. Dr. Stockwell and his colleagues have been questioning the alleged health benefits of alcohol for decades.

Globally, the WHO European Region has the highest alcohol consumption level and the highest proportion of drinkers in the population. Here, over 200 million people in the Region are at risk of developing alcohol-attributable cancer. Given the complexity of alcohol’s effects on the body and the complexity of the people who drink it, blanket recommendations about alcohol are out of the question.

I drink every day, but not very much. Is that risky?

One nationally representative sample found that while the number of people who reported drinking in the past year remained consistent from 2019 to 2021, the number of people consuming alcohol every day increased from 6.3% to 9.6%. There are many studies that discuss the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption. There is a strong scientific consensus that alcohol drinking can cause several types of cancer (1, 2). In its Report on Carcinogens, the National Toxicology Program of the US Department of Health and Human Services lists consumption of alcoholic beverages as a known human carcinogen.

The accumulation of acetaldehyde has such unpleasant effects (including facial flushing and heart palpitations) that most people who have inherited the ALDH2 variant are unable to consume large amounts of alcohol and therefore have a low risk of developing alcohol-related cancers. The researchers found no association between moderate alcohol drinking and the risk of death from all causes. Deaths from all causes ranged from dying from heart disease to road crashes, and fatal injuries. “The apparent benefits disappear and the little benefits that were there were no longer significant,” Stockwell said.


Some heavy drinkers who’ve experienced problems from their drinking can learn how to moderate their drinking. Drinkers with a shorter history of problems and less severe problems tend to be more successful with cutting back and maintaining it. (We’ll cover this in more depth later in the series.) Drinkers who believe that alcoholism is a bad habit rather than a disease tend to do better with moderation. Now if your idea of moderate drinking is a 6 pack instead of a 12 pack, this would suggest that you drink with some pretty heavy drinkers.

The latest study in JAMA Network Open took a closer look at the scientific data that often guides alcohol-related policies. The team expanded their review to 107 alcohol studies published between 1980 and 2021. Their analysis included the drinking habits of 4.8 million people, making it one of the largest pieces of evidence criticizing alcohol’s lack of health benefits. Most of those studies were observational, meaning they could identify links or associations but they could be misleading and did not prove cause and effect.

What’s Moderate Alcohol Intake? What’s a Drink?

Furthermore, many of the previous studies did not have diverse samples, which led to an overrepresentation of older white men and an underrepresentation of women and younger people. However, some individuals with the defective form of ALDH2 can become tolerant to the unpleasant effects of acetaldehyde and consume large amounts of alcohol. Epidemiologic studies have shown that moderate drinking such individuals have a higher risk of alcohol-related esophageal cancer, as well as of head and neck cancers, than individuals with the fully active enzyme who drink comparable amounts of alcohol (31). These increased risks are seen only among people who carry the ALDH2 variant and drink alcohol—they are not observed in people who carry the variant but do not drink alcohol.

Once the study authors identified the biases, they looked at what would happen if you slightly improved these “bad studies.” They used statistical software to remove the bias and added any potential factors that could influence the final outcomes. They tend to be wealthier, are more likely to exercise and to eat a healthy diet, and are less likely to be overweight. While some people may drink alcohol to de-stress — to “take the edge off” — Jantz said when you are stressed, it is difficult to have just one drink. Researchers obtained information from participants’ medical records about any major cardiovascular events they experienced during the study period. This included heart attack, stroke, peripheral vascular disease and heart failure. Decide how many days a week you’ll drink and how much you’ll drink on those days.

Science around Moderate Alcohol Consumption

According to the Office of Alcohol and Drug Education at the University of Notre Dame, IN, a woman’s body absorbs 30 percent more alcohol than a man’s after drinking the same amount. Women usually have lower levels of alcohol dehydrogenase (AHD) than men. Consequently, alcohol remains in a woman’s system longer and builds up faster. While alcohol does not pose a risk to health on its own, abusing can lead to liver disease and other fatal conditions. For example, one way the body metabolizes alcohol is through the activity of an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase, or ADH, which converts ethanol into the carcinogenic metabolite acetaldehyde, mainly in the liver. Recent evidence suggests that acetaldehyde production also occurs in the oral cavity and may be influenced by factors such as the oral microbiome (28, 29).

  • Moderate drinking sits at the point at which the health benefits of alcohol clearly outweigh the risks.
  • While the rising opioid epidemic has received a lot of attention in recent years, the number of deaths attributable to alcohol each year is on par with the overall number of annual deaths from drug overdose, with both increasing rapidly in the past few years.
  • In fact, however, such comparisons are rather complicated, because even within one beverage category (e.g., beer, wine, or distilled spirits), the alcohol contents may differ considerably.