TIME reports on a finding that contradicts what we’ve been taught our entire lives regarding the perils of alcoholism: people who are heavy drinkers live longer than those who have always been nondrinkers. (And that’s after controlling for nearly all the variables one could think up.) Do teetotalers die early due to missing out on the stress release that alcohol provides so well?
A new paper in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research suggests that — for reasons that aren’t entirely clear — abstaining from alcohol does actually tend to increase one’s risk of dying even when you exclude former drinkers. The most shocking part? Abstainers’ mortality rates are higher than those of heavy drinkers.
Even after controlling for nearly all imaginable variables — socioeconomic status, level of physical activity, number of close friends, quality of social support and so on — the researchers (a six-member team led by psychologist Charles Holahan of the University of Texas at Austin) found that over a 20-year period, mortality rates were highest for those who had never been drinkers, second-highest for heavy drinkers and lowest for moderate drinkers.