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BOTTOMS UP

We’ll all be drinking more in the next decade, new study says

By Katherine Ellen Foley

Drinking has been associated with all kinds of health risks, including liver disease, heart disease, and several kinds of cancers. And yet, a new study predicts that on average, we’ll all be drinking more in 10 years than we are today.

The paper, published Tuesday in The Lancet (paywall), predicts that by 2030, the average person over the age of 15 will have 1.2 drinks per day—defined as the equivalent of one shot of an 80 proof spirit—compared to the average of 1.05 drinks per day in 2019. Put another way, by 2030 each adult will drink 6.5 liters (6.9 quarts) of pure alcohol annually, assuming one shot contains 17 milliliters of pure alcohol.

The study analyzed data gathered by the World Health Organization’s annual survey on per-capita drinking rates from 176 countries from 1990 to 2016, which is based on self-reported alcohol consumption and includes estimates of drinking done by tourists.

The authors of this paper—from the Dresden University of Technology in Germany, the World Health Organization, and the University of Toronto—forecast drinking rates through 2030 using previous trends and future population growth including accounting for proportions of each country who are Muslim, and do not drink. They also predict that a larger percentage of adults will drink in the future, too, thanks to economic growth in formerly low-income countries including China and India: 50% of people over 15 are expected to drink in 2030, compared to about 47% today. Heavy drinkers, which the group considers to be those who have more than four drinks at a time at least once a month, will likely increase from about 20% today to 23% in 2030.

What does this trend mean for global health? It’s hard to say. As Quartz has reported previously, although science has proven that alcohol consumption causes damage to our bodies on the cellular level, it’s impossible to identify an amount of drinking that definitively causes a specific condition, like cancer. When studying alcohol health risks, scientists have had to rely on large cohort studies in which participants self-reported how much they routinely drink, which cannot show causation. It would be unethical to ask participants to drink any amount over time because of alcohol’s known toxicity.

In other words, the science is inconclusive. While there’s no certain level of daily drinking that is definitely dangerous, it can’t hurt to drink less.

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