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Research Summary

Alcohol and Serious Consequences: Risks Increase Even With “Moderate” Intake

Risks of alcohol consumption are generally associated with heavy drinking. To examine the associations between consumption (including moderate intake) and negative consequences, investigators conducted a meta-analysis of 156 observational studies including 116,702 people.

  • Risk increased significantly for drinkers, compared with non-drinkers, beginning at an intake of 25 g (< 2 standard drinks) per day for the following: cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx (relative risk, RR, 1.9), esophagus (RR 1.4), larynx (RR 1.4), breast (RR 1.3), liver (RR 1.2), colon (RR 1.1), and rectum (RR 1.1); liver cirrhosis (RR 2.9); essential hypertension (RR 1.4); chronic pancreatitis (RR 1.3); and injuries and violence (RR 1.1).
  • Risks began to rise with any drinking and increased further with higher intake.
  • The risk of coronary heart disease decreased significantly at 25 g per day (RR 0.8) and 50 g per day (RR 0.9), and increased at 100 g per day (RR 1.1).
  • The risk of hemorrhagic stroke increased significantly at 50 g per day (RR 1.8) and 100 g per day (RR 4.7); the risk of ischemic stroke increased at 100 g per day (RR 4.4).


This study contributes to our understanding of the risks and benefits of moderate drinking. However, the relative risks do not tell us whether risks of specific diseases outweigh overall health benefits of consumption, and 25 g may be greater than amounts typically considered as moderate (e.g., 1 drink per day). Further, these results could reflect methodological limitations of the statistical models used. Nonetheless, the data raise concern about the risks associated with moderate drinking.

Richard Saitz, MD, MPH


Corrao G, Bagnardi V, Zambon A, et al. A meta-analysis of alcohol consumption and the risk of 15 diseases. Prev Med. 2004;38(5):613–619.
(view abstract)