Drinking Alcohol Carries Significant Health Risks and No Benefits for Young Adults

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Global Burden of Disease’s new analysis estimates that 1.34 billion people consumed harmful amounts of alcohol (1.03 billion males and 0.312 billion females) in 2020.

The analysis suggests that for young adults ages 15-39, there are no health benefits to drinking alcohol, only health risks. 59.1% of people who consumed unsafe amounts of alcohol in 2020 were between ages 15-39 years and 76.7% were male.
Given the complex relationship between alcohol and diseases and different background rates of diseases across the world, the risks of alcohol consumption differ by age and by geographic location, the authors note.

Health risks from alcohol consumption vary by age and region for adults over age 40. Consuming a small amount of alcohol (for example, drinking between one and two 3.4-ounce glasses of red wine) for people in this age group can provide some health benefits, such as reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and diabetes.

Researchers call for alcohol consumption guidelines to be revised to emphasize consumption levels by age. They stress that the level of alcohol consumption recommended by many existing guidelines is too high for young people in all regions. They also call for policies targeting males under age 40, who are most likely to use alcohol harmfully.

According to a new analysis published in The Lancet, young people face higher health risks from alcohol consumption than older adults. This research study is the first to report alcohol risk by geographical region, age, sex, and year. It advises that global alcohol consumption recommendations should be based on age and location. Furthermore, it recommends that the strictest guidelines be targeted toward males between ages 15-39, who are at the greatest risk of harmful alcohol consumption worldwide.

The study also finds that adults aged 40 and older without underlying health conditions may see some benefits from light alcohol consumption (between one and two standard drinks per day), including a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and diabetes.

Using estimates of alcohol use in 204 countries, researchers calculated that 1.34 billion people worldwide consumed harmful amounts in 2020. In every region, the largest segment of the population drinking unsafe amounts of alcohol were males aged 15-39. For this age group, drinking alcohol does not provide any health benefits and presents many health risks. Moreover, 60% of alcohol-related injuries occur among people in this age group, including motor vehicle accidents, suicides, and homicides.

“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.

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