Study findings speak against recommendations to drink alcohol for health reasons


The increased risk of mortality among current alcohol abstainers may be largely explained by other factors, including past alcohol or drug problems, daily smoking, and poor health in general, according to a new study published Nov. MEDICINE PLOS Written by Ulrich John of the University of Medicine in Greifswald, Germany, and colleagues.

Previous studies have indicated that people who abstain from alcohol have a higher mortality rate than those who drink low to moderate amounts of alcohol. In the new study, the researchers used data on a random sample of 4,028 German adults who participated in a standardized interview conducted between 1996 and 1997, when the participants were 18 to 64 years old. Baseline data was available about alcohol drinking in the 12 months prior to the interview, as well as other information on health, alcohol and drug use. Mortality data were available from follow-up after 20 years.

Of the study participants, 447 (11.10%) had not drunk any alcohol in the 12 months prior to the baseline interview. Of these abstainers, 405 (90.60%) were previous alcohol consumers and 322 (72.04%) had one or more other risk factors for high mortality rates, including previous alcohol use disorder or risky alcohol consumption (35.40%), and smoking daily (50.00%), or average to poor self-rated health (10.51%). The 125 subjects who abstained from alcohol without these risk factors did not show a statistically significant difference in total deaths from cardiovascular disease or deaths from cancer compared to low to moderate alcohol consumers, and those who abstained from alcohol throughout their lives had Risk 1.64 (95%) CI 0.72–3.77) compared to low to moderate alcohol consumers after adjusting for age, gender, and tobacco smoking.


“The results support the view that people in the general population who currently abstain from alcohol do not necessarily have a shorter survival time than the population with low to average alcohol consumption,” the authors say. “The results speak against recommendations to drink alcohol for health reasons.”

It has long been assumed that low to moderate alcohol consumption may have positive effects on health based on the finding that abstainers die earlier than low to moderate drinkers. We found that the majority of abstainers had alcohol or drug problems, risky alcohol consumption, daily tobacco smoking or poor health in their history, i.e. factors that predict early death.”

Ulrich John, University of Medicine in Greifswald, Germany



Journal reference:

john, yo, et al. (2021) Alcohol abstinence and mortality in a general sample of adults in Germany: a cohort study. MEDICINE PLOS.



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