"In fully adjusted, prespecified models that accounted for effects of sampling, between-study variation, and potential confounding from former drinker bias and other study-level covariates, our meta-analysis of 107 studies found (1) no significant protective associations of occasional or low-volume drinking (moderate drinking) with all-cause mortality; and (2) an increased risk of all-cause mortality for drinkers who drank 25 g or more and a significantly increased risk when drinking 45 g or more per day.

"Several meta-analytic strategies were used to explore the role of abstainer reference group biases caused by drinker misclassification errors and also the potential confounding effects of other study-level quality covariates in studies.2 Drinker misclassification errors were common. Of 107 studies identified, 86 included former drinkers and/or occasional drinkers in the abstainer reference group, and only 21 were free of both these abstainer biases. The importance of controlling for former drinker bias/misclassification is highlighted once more in our results which are consistent with prior studies showing that former drinkers have significantly elevated mortality risks compared with lifetime abstainers.

"In addition to presenting our fully adjusted models, a strength of the study was the examination of the differences in relative risks according to unadjusted and partially adjusted models, including the effect of removing individual covariates from the fully adjusted model. We found evidence that abstainer biases and other study characteristics changed the shape of the risk relationship between mortality and rising alcohol consumption, and that most study-level controls increased the observed risks from alcohol, or attenuated protective associations at low levels of consumption such that they were no longer significant. The reduced RR estimates for occasional or moderate drinkers observed without adjustment may be due to the misclassification of former and occasional drinkers into the reference group, a possibility which is more likely to have occurred in studies of older cohorts which use current abstainers as the reference group. This study also demonstrates the degree to which observed associations between consumption and mortality are highly dependent on the modeling strategy used and the degree to which efforts are made to minimize confounding and other threats to validity.

"It also examined risk estimates when using occasional drinkers rather than lifetime abstainers as the reference group. The occasional drinker reference group avoids the issue of former drinker misclassification that can affect the abstainer reference group, and may reduce confounding to the extent that occasional drinkers are more like low-volume drinkers than are lifetime abstainers.2,8,132 In the unadjusted and partially adjusted analyses, using occasional drinkers as the reference group resulted in nonsignificant protective associations and lower point estimates for low-volume drinkers compared with significant protective associations and higher point estimates when using lifetime nondrinkers as the reference group. In the fully adjusted models, there were nonsignificant protective associations for low-volume drinkers whether using lifetime abstainers or occasional drinkers as the reference group, though this was only a RR of 0.97 for the latter.

"Across all studies, there were few differences in risk for studies when stratified by median age of enrollment above or below age 56 years in the fully adjusted analyses. However, in the subset of studies who enrolled participants aged 50 years or younger who were followed for at least 10 years, occasional drinkers and medium-volume drinkers had significantly increased risk of mortality and substantially higher risk estimates for high- and higher-volume consumption compared with results from all studies. This is consistent with our previous meta-analysis for CHD,9 in which younger cohorts followed up to older age did not show a significantly beneficial association of low-volume consumption, while older cohorts, with more opportunity for lifetime selection bias, showed marked, significant protective associations.

"Our study also found sex differences in the risk of all-cause mortality. A larger risk of all-cause mortality for women than men was observed when drinking 25 or more grams per day, including a significant increase in risk for medium-level consumption for women that was not observed for men. However, mortality risk for mean consumption up to 25 g per day were very similar for both sexes."


Zhao J, Stockwell T, Naimi T, Churchill S, Clay J, Sherk A. Association Between Daily Alcohol Intake and Risk of All-Cause Mortality: A Systematic Review and Meta-analyses. JAMA Netw Open. 2023;6(3):e236185. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.6185