Study Finds Even “Low-Risk” Drinking Can Be Harmful

low-risk drinking can be harmful

We often think that only people who drink heavily will suffer the negative effects on their physical and mental health. However, a recent study has shown that even “low-risk” drinking can be harmful. For someone who is addicted to alcohol, of course, any amount of alcohol consumption can pose a risk.

What is Considered Low-Risk?

The most recent study on the effects of drinking was conducted by the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada. The findings were published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

The researchers considered low-risk drinking to be consumption within the guidelines set by the Canadian government. Those guidelines state that women should consume no more than about 10 drinks per week and that men should consume no more than 15 drinks per week. One drink is considered to be 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor. These guidelines are actually slightly higher than those in the US.

The Study’s Findings

The study’s researchers found that, in British Columbia, a significant portion of alcohol-caused death and disability was experienced by those drinking within the “low-risk” guidelines. For example, more than 50 percent of cancer deaths resulting from alcohol use occurred in people drinking moderately. Further, 38 percent of all alcohol-attributable deaths were experienced by people drinking below the weekly limits or among former drinkers.

In addition, the study found that more men (18%) than women (7%) drank above weekly guidelines. Those drinking within the low-risk guidelines experienced 140 more deaths and 3,663 more hospital stays than if they had chosen to abstain from alcohol. A weighted relative risk analysis found that, for both women and men, the risk was lowest at a consumption level of 10g, or about .35 ounces, per day. For all levels of consumption, men were found to experience a higher weighted relative risk than women.

The study’s lead researcher, Adam Sherk, PhD, suggested that the “low-risk” 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.” Overall, he says, the best advice for drinking is to err on the side of caution, adding that “when it comes to alcohol use, less is better.”

Previous Studies with Similar Findings

A previous study, published in 2018, found that globally, alcohol use was the seventh leading risk factor for both deaths and “disability-adjusted life-years.” These disabilities may have resulted, for example, from injuries suffered in an accident caused by drunk driving and affect the individual’s potential lifespan. In 2016, 2·8 million deaths were attributed to alcohol use. Among the population aged 15–49 years, alcohol use was the leading global risk factor for risk-attributable disease burden.

In other words, alcohol use was found not only to cause deaths but also disabilities and diseases even among those who were drinking moderately or at what would be considered a low-risk level. Heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer was found to be a direct result of drinking habits in the study’s subjects.

Effects of Alcohol Consumption

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), alcohol-related problems among adults and adolescents—which result from drinking too much, too fast, or too often—are among the most significant public health issues in the United States and internationally.

For example:

  • Each year in the United States, more than 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes, making it the third leading preventable cause of death in our country. The first is tobacco, and the second is poor diet and physical inactivity.
  • Alcohol misuse costs the United States about $249 billion per year.
  • In the United States, approximately 14.8 million people had an alcohol use disorder in 2018.
  • More than 10 percent of U.S. children live with a parent with alcohol problems, according to a 2017 study.


Addiction is a chronic, progressive disease that can impact your mental and physical health. At BRC Recovery, we want to help you stop the vicious cycle of drug or alcohol use that has become such a struggle for you. Our team of experts focuses on holistic healing so you can experience real recovery.

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