Explaining How Non-Drinkers Face Higher Risk of Death

Research from the University of Colorado attempts to explain why individuals who abstain entirely from alcohol face a higher risk of death than light drinkers. And once they divided the non-drinkers into several categories, researchers found several interesting pieces of data.

Recent studies have claimed that drinking some alcohol may offer a protective effect, even reducing mortality risk. Published in Population Research and Policy Review, researchers examined whether varying characteristics among groups of non-drinkers could explain their relatively higher risk of dying.

According to Professor Richard Rogers of the University of Colorado, “Among non-drinkers, people have all types of background reasons why they don’t drink. We wanted to ascertain these reasons since it’s not really informative to make the blanket assumption that non-drinkers are a homogenous group.”

Once they collected drinking habit data from a 1988 National Health Interview Survey of over 41,000 individuals in the US, and determining which of the respondents had died by 2006, Rogers and his team were able to identify three major categories of non-drinkers. Abstainers had fewer than 12 drinks in their lives, infrequent drinkers had less than 12 drinks a year, and former drinkers used to drink over 12 drinks a year.

Within each group, additional subgroups also appeared. For example, within the abstainer group, the most frequent reason for not drinking was due to disliking the taste. That group faced a 17% higher risk of morality compared with individuals who drink on occasion.

According to the study, the group of infrequent drinkers had only a slightly higher mortality risk when compared to the light drinkers, but former drinkers had the highest risk among all groups of nondrinkers, at 38%. The researchers suggest that the reason behind this high rate is that many “former drinkers” were at one time alcoholics and had difficulties with alcohol abuse.

Among individuals who do drink, there are also several different groups and mortality risks rates when compared to those who are light drinkers. Those who consume 1-2 drinks a day produce a 9% higher mortality rate. Those who have 3-4 drinks a day have a 49% higher rate of mortality. Individuals who have over 3 drinks a day faced a 58% higher risk of mortality.

Rogers concludes by stating that he thinks the idea that drinking could be somewhat beneficial appears to be overstated. There could be a number of other factors that lower mortality for light drinkers. It’s not solely the act of drinking, itself.


Written by Stuart Diamond


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