If you asked the ‘archetypical’ university student what is their favourite type of alcohol, the response would be A LOT (and for a reasonable price, naturally).  Yes, it is undeniably true that alcohol plays a big role in many student’s social lives, whether it be that glass of wine at the end of the day, that one quiet pint (or maybe a few) down your local with some mates or letting loose and ordering that tray of shots on a night out. Apart from the risk of waking up to a rough hangover the following morning, how dangerous can it be?

According to a paper published recently in the Lancet medical journal, drinking more than the daily UK recommended limit could shorten your life expectancy.

So, the first question to ask is just how much alcohol is too much? Ashamedly, I had to do a quick google search to find the recommended UK drinking limits and found that they currently stand at 14 units of alcohol a week for both men and women, ideally spread over three or more days. This roughly equates to be 6 glasses of wine (175ml), 6 pints of beer or 14 shots (25ml).

Wine Decline. Source: Flickr

The aim of this international study was to help bring about a global consensus on the threshold for the low risk limits of alcohol consumption that currently vary substantially across nations. The research consisted of 83 studies across 19 countries analysing the drinking habits of 600,000 participants. The ages, sex, diabetes status, smoking habits and other factors of relating to cardiovascular disease of the participants were also considered. It was found that over half of the participants were consuming more than the recommended weekly limit of 100 g (5-6 glasses of wine) of alcohol whilst a shocking 8.4% were drinking more than 350 grams per week!

Calculations from the study suggested that a 40-year old person drinking 4 units of alcohol above the daily limit, for instance drinking three glasses of wine a night, could lose one to two years off their average life expectancy.This equates to each extra unit of alcohol shaving 15 minutes of a person’s life, on par with smoking a cigarette.

An extra unit of alcohol shaves off 15 minutes of a person’s life, on par with smoking a cigarette.

The main outcome from the research is that drinking more than the recommended amount does increase the risk of developing several cardiovascular diseases and by drinking less alcohol it can help us to live longer. However, there is a little good news. No evidence was found that suggested an increased risk of death for light drinkers (drinking below 100g per week). This means that the research doesn’t challenge the claim that drinking a ‘little’ alcohol does lower the risk of heart attacks.

Angela Wood from the University of Cambridge and lead author of the paper has said that ‘despite it (alcohol consumption) being associated with a slightly lower risk of non-fatal heart attacks, this must also be balanced against the higher risk of several – and potentially fatal – cardiovascular diseases’.

The findings of the study support the new UK guidelines on alcohol consumption and go further to suggest that other countries, including Italy, Portugal and the USA (who advocate a higher drinking limit for men), should seriously consider lowering their recommendations. The authors also wanted to stress the fact that guidelines should act as a threshold and not as a target for alcohol consumption.

A lot of wine. Source: pixabay

Personally, I think the idea that alcohol is beneficial for our overall health sounds too good to be true. The results of this research should be considered seriously by all nations and inspire support for increased education about the impacts of our sometimes-excessive alcohol consumption. That being said, will it stop me from indulging in the RAM after the summer exams are all over? Probably not.  

If you fancy learning more about alcohol give this one a read where our amazing Penny Dinh explains how drinking may actually be helping your revision!

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