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Research Summary

Changes in Alcohol Consumption and Their Effects on Mortality, Cancer, and Coronary Heart Disease

Moderate drinking appears to lower risk of mortality. To examine how changes in intake affect risk of mortality, coronary heart disease (CHD), and cancer, investigators used data from a longitudinal study of 6644 men and 8010 women, aged 25–98 years, who had completed 2 health exams at 5-year intervals. Key findings from analyses adjusted for possible confounders (e.g., age, sex, smoking) include the following:

  • The risk of all-cause mortality among stable drinkers (same intake at both exams) was U-shaped, with non-drinkers (<1 drink per week) and heavy drinkers (>13 drinks per week) having the highest, and similar, mortality compared with light drinkers (1–6 drinks per week). Risk significantly increased when drinkers decreased their intake to <1 drink per week.
  • The risk of CHD mortality was not significantly associated with amount consumed among stable drinkers (though non-drinkers tended to have higher risk) or with increases in intake. Risk increased (borderline significance) among light drinkers who decreased their intake to <1 drink per week.
  • The risk of cancer was significantly higher in stable drinkers who consumed heavier amounts (>13 drinks per week). No significant changes in cancer mortality were seen among drinkers who increased or decreased their intake.


There are many reasons not to drink heavily—this study confirms that the increased risk of cancer is one of them. This study also found that moderate drinkers who decreased their consumption to little or no alcohol increased their risk of death from all causes. Therefore, according to these findings, adult moderate drinkers—to lower their risk of death—should not be advised to reduce their intake or to abstain.

R. Curtis Ellison, MD


Grønbaek M, Johansen D, Becker U, et al. Changes in alcohol intake and mortality: a longitudinal population-based study. Epidemiology. 2004;15(2):222–228.
(view abstract)