Can Staying Sober Shorten Your Life?

New study may finally determine that those who abstain from alcohol die sooner.

ByABC News
August 31, 2010, 2:08 PM

Sept. 1, 2010— -- It runs counter to decades of medical advice, but again and again, researchers are finding that those who drink moderately, and in some cases even those who drink heavily, outlive their sober peers.

In a recent study from the University of Texas, Austin, researchers followed middle-aged subjects into old age and found that while nearly 70 percent of abstainers were dead within twenty years of starting the study, only 60 percent of heavy drinkers and 41 percent of the moderate drinkers had died by that time.

Findings such as this have met with much controversy in the medical community, less because it supports the health benefits of modest drinking, and more because it suggests that those who say no to that evening glass of wine are substantially more likely to die sooner.

Studies show that a little bit of alcohol (less than two drinks a day) can be healthy for your heart. But how could staying away from alcohol shorten your life?

Some have suggested that other factors associated with drinking frequency are behind this difference in longevity, such as wealth, race, physical activity or even social activity.

For instance, people who are wealthier are more likely to drink, but are also more likely to have good health care, points out Dr. Robert Gwyther, professor of family medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Others suggest that moderate drinkers tend to be more social and hence have a stronger social support system -- something studies have connected to increased longevity, especially in old age.

In addition, those who abstain are also more likely to do so because of an existing health problem or because they are recovering alcoholics, and the mystery behind this effect begins to fade.