binge drinking helmet

After a long day or week or month at work, it can be nice to unwind with a drink or two or three or four. But when you wake up feeling the effects of all that alcohol from the night before, you may wonder what the physical toll of all that drinking is. According to a new study of drinkers in The Lancet published Friday, the outlook is not great.

In a large-scale study of the drinking habits of 599,912 adults, researchers found that there’s a negative correlation between binge drinking and life expectancy. Fortunately, they found that people who drink about 6.5 drinks a week or less are mostly okay. But those who drink 6.5 to 12.5 drinks a week have a six-month lower life expectancy at age 40, while those who have 12.5 to 22 drinks a week have one to two years lower life expectancy, and people who drink more than that have four to five years lower life expectancy. This may make your Friday happy hour seem a lot less happy.

relative risk

Depending on what day it is, you may have read news articles telling you alcohol is good for you or alcohol is bad for you, but as usual, the truth is somewhere in between the headlines. Even this latest study, which seems to show pretty grim results, indicates that alcohol isn’t totally bad for your health. The study did show that drinking is associated with a slight decrease in heart attack risk.

But that’s pretty much the only positive health benefit it showed for heavy drinkers, and it’s arguably cancelled out by all the other negative effects on heart health. For every 6.5 drinks a week over the baseline “safe” 6.5 drinks, the study showed increased risks of coronary disease (except heart attacks), heart failure, fatal hypertensive disease, and fatal aortic aneurysm, suggesting it’s a good idea to keep the heavy drinking to the weekend or just practice moderation altogether.

For people whose social lives involve a lot of alcohol, the idea of having fewer than seven drinks a week may seem laughable. And hey, you do you — but it’s worth considering that a study like this one, which draws data from over half a million people in 19 high-income countries, is a pretty comprehensive one.

It’s also important to note that the CDC considers binge drinking as more than five drinks in two hours (four drinks for women) — that is, American binge drinking guidelines don’t allow for as much alcohol as British ones. If that’s something you’re doing tonight at happy hour, keep in mind that your health risk may be even higher than the ones discussed in this study.