Multiple studies have shown that the likelihood of dying for people who drink increases as they consume more alcohol. Those same studies have shown that a person's mortality risk also increases at the other end of the spectrum — among people who choose not to drink at all — though the risk is still much less than for heavy drinkers.
Some researchers have hypothesized that the increased mortality among nondrinkers could be related to the fact that light alcohol consumption — drinking, on average, less than one drink a day — might actually protect people from disease and reduce their stress levels.
But researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder, working with colleagues at the University of Colorado Denver, decided to examine whether characteristics of different subgroups of nondrinkers could explain the increased mortality risk.
"Among nondrinkers, people have all sorts of background reasons for why they don't drink," said sociology Professor Richard Rogers, director of CU-Boulder's Population Program in the Institute of Behavioral Science. "We wanted to tease that out because it's not really informative to just assume that nondrinkers are a unified group."
For the new study, published in last month's issue of the journal Population Research and Policy Review, Rogers and his colleagues relied on data collected in 1988 by the National Health Interview Survey about the drinking habits of more than 41,000 people from across the United States. The researchers also had access to information about which respondents died between taking the survey and 2006.
During the survey, nondrinkers were asked to provide their reasons for not drinking. Possible answers ranged from "don't socialize very much" to "am an alcoholic" to "religious or moral reasons."
The research team divided nondrinkers into three general categories: "abstainers," or people who have never had more than 12 drinks in their lives; "infrequent drinkers," or people who have fewer than 12 drinks a year; and "former drinkers." Each category was further divided using a statistical technique that grouped people together who gave similar clusters of reasons for not drinking.
The team then calculated the mortality risk for each subgroup compared with the mortality risk for light drinkers, and they found that the risks varied markedly.
Abstainers who chose not to drink for a cluster of reasons that included religious or moral motivations, being brought up not to drink, responsibilities to their family, as well as not liking the taste, had similar mortality risks over the follow-up period to light drinkers.
"So this idea that nondrinkers always have higher mortality than light drinkers isn't true," Rogers said. "You can find some groups of nondrinkers who have similar mortality risks to light drinkers."
The other subgroup of abstainers — whose largest reason for not drinking appeared to be a dislike of the taste and to a lesser degree family responsibilities, religious or moral motivations or upbringing — had a 17 percent higher mortality risk over the follow-up period compared with light drinkers.
The scientists also found that infrequent drinkers generally had a slightly higher mortality risk than light drinkers. Former drinkers, however, had the highest mortality risk of all nondrinkers. Former drinkers whose cluster of reasons for not drinking now included being an alcoholic and problems with drinking, for example, had a 38 percent higher mortality risk than light drinkers over the follow-up period.
By comparison, people who drink between one and two drinks per day, on average, have a 9 percent higher mortality rate than light drinkers, while people who drink between two and three drinks per day have a 49 percent higher mortality. People who consume more than three drinks per day had a 58 percent higher mortality risk over the follow-up period compared with light drinkers.
Despite confirming that some subgroups of nondrinkers have a higher mortality rate than light drinkers, it doesn't necessarily follow that those people's mortality rates would fall if they began drinking, Rogers said. For example, people who were problem drinkers in the past might increase their mortality risk further by starting to drink again.
Also, people who don't drink at all, as a group, have lower socioeconomic characteristics than light drinkers, which could be one of the underlying causes for the mortality differences, Rogers said. In that case, starting to drink without changing a person's socioeconomic status also would not likely lower mortality rates.
"I think the idea that drinking could be somewhat beneficial seems like it's overstated," Rogers said. "There may be other factors that lower mortality for light drinkers. It's not just the act of drinking."
Co-authors of the study include Robert Kemp and Elizabeth Lawrence from CU-Boulder and Patrick Krueger and Richard Miech from CU Denver.
Richard Rogers | EurekAlert!
Smart Data Transformation – Surfing the Big Wave
02.12.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Informationstechnik FIT
Climate change could outpace EPA Lake Champlain protections
18.11.2016 | University of Vermont
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering
02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy