Alcohol Does Not Decrease Mortality, Increases Cancer Rate

By John Henry Dreyfuss, staff.

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  • Low-volume alcohol consumption did not reduce mortality risk in this meta-analysis.
  • Low volume drinking and occasional drinking do not reduce mortality risk but may increase cancer risk.
  • Lifetime abstention confers equal mortality risk but obviates cancer risks.
  • Even low-volume alcohol consumption increases risk of numerous cancers.

It is not advisable to suggest that patients consume alcohol in any amounts. Low-volume alcohol consumption has no net mortality benefit compared with lifetime abstention or occasional drinking according to a study published recently in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. “These findings have implications for public policy, the formulation of low-risk drinking guidelines, and future research on alcohol and health,” the authors noted.



In fact, alcohol may increase all-cause mortality rates if cancer risk is factored. Previous meta-analyses have linked alcohol consumption with increased risk of a variety of cancers. (Figures 1 and 2.)

“Previous meta-analyses of cohort studies indicate a J-shaped relationship between alcohol consumption and all-cause mortality, with reduced risk for low-volume drinkers,” the authors wrote. “However, low-volume drinkers may appear healthy only because the abstainers with whom they are compared are biased toward ill health.”


Figure 1. Alcohol consumption has been linked to increased rates of oral cancer.

This meta-analysis was intended to determine whether misclassifying former and occasional drinkers as abstainers—and other potentially confounding study characteristics—underlie observed positive health outcomes for low-volume drinkers in prospective studies of all-cause mortality.

The Analysis

These reviewers conducted a systematic review and meta-regression analysis of studies investigating alcohol use and mortality risk. The authors controlled for quality-related study characteristics in an examination of 3,998,626 individuals of whom 367,103 died during the study period.


Figure 2. Alcohol consumption has been linked to increased rates of breast cancer.

The analysis included 87 included studies which replicated the classic J-shaped curve that has been associated with alcohol consumption and all-cause mortality. On this curve, low-volume drinkers (1.3–24.9 g ethanol per day) appear to have a reduced mortality risk (RR=0.86, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.83, 0.90). On the same curve, occasional drinkers (<1.3 g per day) displayed similar mortality risk (RR=0.84, 95% CI 0.79, 0.89), and former drinkers had an elevated risk (RR=1.22, 95% CI 1.14, 1.31).

“After adjustment for abstainer biases and quality-related study characteristics, no significant reduction in mortality risk was observed for low-volume drinkers (RR=0.97, 95% CI 0.88, 1.07). Analyses of higher-quality bias-free studies also failed to find reduced mortality risk for low-volume alcohol drinkers. Risk estimates for occasional drinkers were similar to those for low- and medium-volume drinkers,” the authors explained.