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Low-risk drinking tied to a large share of alcohol-related deaths

According to a new study, moderate levels of alcohol consumption should not be considered safe. The researchers are reporting that low-risk drinking can lead to serious health complications and that moderate drinkers are not shielded from harm.

A research team led by Dr. Adam Sherk of the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research investigated hospitalizations and deaths associated with alcohol use in British Columbia. 

The investigation was focused on data from the International Model of Alcohol Harms and Policies (InterMAHP). 

The analysis showed that a surprisingly large share of alcohol-related deaths and disabilities occurred among people who were low-risk drinkers who consumed alcohol within Canadian guidelines.

In Canada, low-risk drinking guidelines state that women should consume no more than 10 drinks per week and men should consume no more than 15 drinks. These limits exceed those in most other high-income countries, and are slightly higher than recommended limits in the United States. 

The researchers found that more than 50 percent of patients who died from alcohol-related cancers were moderate drinkers. In addition, 38 percent of all alcohol-attributable deaths were linked to low-risk drinkers or former drinkers. 

On the other hand, alcohol consumption within the guidelines offered some protection from fatal heart attack, stroke, and diabetes among women. “This protective effect did not appear to hold for men, who experienced harm at all drinking levels,” wrote the study authors.

The experts said the findings suggest that some national drinking guidelines, which are designed to help drinkers make informed health decisions, are too high. 

Dr. Sherk recommends that guideline limits should be lowered to match those in the Netherlands: “Don’t drink or, if you do, drink no more than one drink per day.”

The research is published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer


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