A new study suggests that alcohol consumption is detrimental for people under 40

Alcohol is dangerous for all people but particularly for those under 40.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Whiskey.Source: igorr1/iStock

New research by authors of the Global Burden of Diseases study, a project based at the University of Washington in Seattle and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, estimates that 1.34 billion people consumed harmful amounts of alcohol in 2020 and reveals alcohol is not good for those under 40, according to a press release published on Thursday. 

A simple message: those under 40 should not drink

“Our message is simple: young people should not drink, but older people may benefit from drinking small amounts. While it may not be realistic to think young adults will abstain from drinking, we do think it’s important to communicate the latest evidence so that everyone can make informed decisions about their health,” says senior author Dr. Emmanuela Gakidou, Professor of Health Metrics Sciences at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine.

The new study is the first to report alcohol risk by geographical region, age, sex, and year. The work took into account data for males and females aged 15–95 years and older between 1990 and 2020 in 204 countries and territories. 

In every region, the study found that the most significant segment of the population drinking unsafe amounts of alcohol were males aged 15–39. The research further revealed that 60% of alcohol-related injuries occurred among people in this age group, including motor vehicle accidents, suicides, and homicides.   

Overall, at this age, there were absolutely no health benefits associated with drinking only health risks. The analysis did find that for people aged 40 and older without any underlying health conditions, drinking a small amount of alcohol may provide some benefits, such as reducing the risk of ischemic heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

So what amount is safe to drink?

With one standard drink being defined as 10 grams of pure alcohol, which is equivalent to a small glass of red wine (100ml or 3.4 fluid ounces) at 13% alcohol by volume, a can or bottle of beer (375 ml or 12 fluid ounces) at 3.5% alcohol by volume or a shot of whiskey or other spirits (30 ml or 1.0 fluid ounces) at 40% alcohol by volume, the recommended amount of alcohol for people aged 15–39 was 0.136 standard drinks per day (a little more than one-tenth of a standard drink).

For females in the same age group, that amount was slightly higher at 0.273 drinks per day (about a quarter of a standard drink). For individuals aged 40–64 years, safe alcohol consumption levels ranged from about half a standard drink per day (0.527 drinks for males and 0.562 standard drinks for females) to almost two standard drinks per day (1.69 standard drinks for males and 1.82 for females). 

This is not the first time the study produces worrisome results for drinking alcohol. A 2018 version of the research also showed similar results.

The new analysis was published in The Lancet.


For this analysis, we constructed burden-weighted dose–response relative risk curves across 22 health outcomes to estimate the theoretical minimum risk exposure level (TMREL) and non-drinker equivalence (NDE), the consumption level at which the health risk is equivalent to that of a non-drinker, using disease rates from the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study (GBD) 2020 for 21 regions, including 204 countries and territories, by 5-year age group, sex, and year for individuals aged 15–95 years and older from 1990 to 2020. Based on the NDE, we quantified the population consuming harmful amounts of alcohol.

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