This column originally appeared in The Observer magazine/Guardian online

Over the past couple of decades, quite a few studies suggested that drinking alcohol in moderation is actually good for your health. But then came the backlash: Perhaps moderate drinkers are healthier than teetotallers because many teetotallers gave up the drink due to alcoholism or other long-term health problems. Now a new study with better methodology has cast new light on this old question. So what does your drinking say about you…?


How often do you drink alcohol?

(a) daily or almost daily

(b) once or twice per week

(c) once or twice per month

(d) never (no alcohol at all in the past 12 months)


If you said (a) then – on average – you are more than twice as likely to live to at least 85, with no cognitive impairments, than (d) a non-drinker who is similar to you in terms of factors such as smoking, exercise, weight, medical conditions, medications, marital status and depression. If you said (b) or (c) you are slightly less than twice as likely (1.76 or 1.85 times respectively) as a non-drinker to make it to 85 unimpaired. Cheers!


These were the findings of a new longitudinal study (led by Erin Richard at the University of California, San Diego) [http://content.iospress.com/articles/journal-of-alzheimers-disease/jad161153]which assessed alcohol intake in the mid 1980s, and then followed up the participants as far as 2009. One health warning, though: the participants were already of retirement age at the start of the study: It remains to be seen whether near-daily drinking has a positive or negative effect of health when begun earlier in life (and, of course, excessive drinking is seriously harmful to your health whatever your age).




Richard, E. L., Kritz-Silverstein, D., Laughlin, G. A., Fung, T. T., Barrett-Connor, E., & McEvoy, L. K. (2017). Alcohol Intake and Cognitively Healthy Longevity in Community-Dwelling Adults: The Rancho Bernardo Study. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, (Preprint), 1-12.


A fully referenced version of this article is available at benambridge.com. Order Are You Smarter Than A Chimpanzee? by Ben Ambridge (Profile Books, £12.99) for £11.04 at bookshop.theguardian.com

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