Instant Guide

Why booze hounds live longer

New evidence suggests that heavy drinkers outlive teetotalers. How can that be?

A new study offers strong evidence that drinking alcohol, even in large quantities, may help extend your lifespan:

So drinking really helps you live longer?
It would seem so. In a large study of older adults, University of Texas researchers found that mortality rates were significantly lower for drinkers than for teetotalers. Among drinkers, heavy partakers (4-plus drinks a day) had a higher mortality rate than did moderate ones (1–3 drinks a day). (Watch a report about the study)

What are the numbers behind this assertion?
The researchers followed 1,824 participants between the ages of 55 and 65 for 20 years. Just over 69 percent of those who had never drunk alcohol died during that time, 60 percent of the heavy drinkers died, and only 41 percent of moderate drinkers died.

Surely other factors come into play?
Undoubtedly — but the University of Texas did their best to eliminate as many as they could. The authors got their results by "controlling for nearly all imaginable variables," including physical activity, general health, and social and economic status.

So can we say alcohol is good for you?
We can't go that far yet, say the study's authors. The dangers of drinking to excess include mental impairment, increased likelihood of accidental injury, and dependency issues. In other words, says Amy Scattergood at L.A. Weekly, "drinking might increase your lifespan, but it can also screw it up in pretty massive ways if you're not careful."

Why does alcohol help you live longer?
Unfortunately, says John Cloud at Time, the reasons "aren't exactly clear." We know that moderate alcohol use can "improve heart health, circulation, and sociability," but there's no firm evidence that shows why even heavy drinkers outlive those who abstain. Maybe it's just because they're more fun, says Max Read at Gawker. Heavy drinkers enjoy the "social benefits" that come with alcohol, whereas studies show abstainers run a high risk of depression. Everyone knows an active social life helps you live longer, and besides, "I've been the only sober person at a party, and let me tell you, it is depressing."

Sources: Time, Gawker, LA Weekly

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