The possible health risks associated with alcohol consumption continue to be an area of concern. In a first, The Lancet journal published a study, reporting the impact of alcohol based on factors such as age, gender and geographical region.
“Small amounts of alcohol might lower the risk of some health outcomes but increase the risk of others, suggesting that the overall risk depends, in part, on background disease rates, which vary by region, age, sex, and year,” the study titled ‘Population-level risks of alcohol consumption by amount, geography, age, sex, and year: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2020’ stated.
For this analysis, researchers used alcohol estimates in 204 countries and found that 1.34 billion people consumed harmful amounts in 2020. It found that males aged between 15 and 39 are at the greatest risk of harmful alcohol consumption worldwide. As such, in every region, the largest segment of the population consuming unsafe amounts of alcohol happened to be males in this age group.
The researchers found that in this section of the population, drinking alcohol doesn’t provide any health benefits and only causes risks. About 60 per cent of alcohol-related injuries occur among people in this age group, including motor vehicle accidents, suicides, and homicides, they added.
“In young people, consumption is high as compared to older people. There’s also peer pressure involved in this age group. Most start drinking during college and office. Because of low salaries, they usually drink cheap alcohol, leading to acute liver injuries,” Dr Shrey Srivastav, Internal Medicine, Sharda Hospital, told indianexpress.com.
He added that acute hepatitis is a common concern among younger people due to alcohol consumption. “They have young liver which is much more prone to injuries that can lead to other problems including multi-organ dysfunction, and heart, kidney and spleen issues. Further, this could lead to rupture of the oesophagus at a very early age. Liver transplantation rate is also higher in younger alcoholic patients because of higher impact.”
Consequently, if a person consumes alcohol at this age, the survival age decreases considerably, the expert noted. “The survival age reduces to 55-60 years as compared to 70-75 years among non-alcoholic people.”
On the contrary, according to the study, for adults over the age of 40, without underlying health conditions, consuming a small amount of alcohol (between one and two standard drinks per day) can provide some health benefits including reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and diabetes.
However, Dr Srivastav added that alcohol is not recommended to any age group. “While no doctor will ever prescribe alcohol to older or younger people for prevention of any disease, some studies suggest that red wine is good for the heart. Overall, alcohol is not really good for anything,” he said.
How much alcohol is safe to consume?
Here’s how much alcohol a person can drink before taking on excess risk to their health, compared to someone who does not drink any alcohol, according to the research.
For people aged 15-39, the recommended amount of alcohol is 0.136 standard drinks per day. For females in this age group, it stands at 0.273 drinks per day.
For adults aged 40 and older, without any underlying health conditions, the recommended levels ranged from about half a standard drink per day (0.527 drinks for males and 0.562 drinks for females) to almost two standard drinks (1.69 drinks for males and 1.82 for females).
For adults over 65 years, a little more than three standard drinks per day (3.19 drinks for males and 3.51 drinks for females) are recommended.
According to Dr Srivastav, “It depends on what kind of alcohol you are consuming – beer, wine, gin or whiskey, among others. They all contain different amounts of alcohol in them. Around 10 standard drinks in a week and not more than one standard drink in a day is the cut-off marker. One drink should be 15-30 ml.”
*One standard drink is defined as 10 grams of pure alcohol, according to the researchers.