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This One Habit Can Cut Your Life Short by 28 Years, Says Science

Why alcohol use disorder may be even more dangerous than you ever knew.
FACT CHECKED BY Kiersten Hickman

The leading health experts at the Mayo Clinic define the general term "alcohol use disorder" as "a pattern of alcohol use that involves problems controlling your drinking, being preoccupied with alcohol, continuing to use alcohol even when it causes problems, having to drink more to get the same effect, or having withdrawal symptoms when you rapidly decrease or stop drinking."

If this sounds familiar and you find that you experience any of the symptoms associated with alcohol use disorder—which range from being unable to control the amount you drink to willingly giving up social obligations to pursue your drinking (for a complete list of symptoms, see here)—you should change your ways. Research published in the journal Acta Psychiatra Scandinavica found that alcohol use disorder was associated with a much, much shorter life expectancy.

For the study, researchers from Sweden's Karolinski Intitute analyzed the drinking (or non-drinking) behaviors of more than a million people across three European nations, and they concluded that those who have been hospitalized for alcohol use disorder have a life expectancy that averages between 47 and 53 years of age for men and 50 to 58 years in women. "Life expectancy was 24 to 28 years shorter in people with alcohol use disorder than in the general population," the researchers concluded.

According to the study, those who suffer from alcohol use disorder had a higher mortality from "all causes of death" than the rest of the population, and those causes of death include "all diseases and medical conditions and suicide."

It's not the first study to shed light on some of the potentially lethal dangers of drinking alcohol, whether excessively or even in moderation. According to a recent study published in the European Heart Journal, moderate drinkers could be putting their bodies at greater risk than they may have realized. The research team, which examined the drinking habits and heart health of more than 107,000 Europeans between the ages of 24 and 97 starting in the year 1982, found that those who drink just one "small" alcoholic drink per day significantly raised their risk of developing an irregular heartbeat‚ or "atrial fibrillation." This condition is linked with not only dizziness and heart palpitations but also with a higher risk of stroke.

For the record, a "small" drink was defined as exactly that: 330 milliliters of beer (less than your typical 12-ounce can), 120 milliliters of wine (roughly eight tablespoons), and 40 milliliters of spirits (2.7 tablespoons).

If you're not sure whether your drinking rises to the level of a problem, know that Robert Doyle, MD, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and co-author of the book Almost Alcoholic, says that the surest sign is if you try to stop for a period of time and you simply can't go through with it.

"Don't drink for a month," he advises. "If that's hard for you, then maybe it's a problem. Or ask the people around you what they think. If it's causing them distress, then it's a significant problem."

After all, if you're imbibing every day, scientists say that you're increasing your heart-disease risk, you're increasing your risk of infertility, you're putting yourself at risk of osteoporosis, and you're potentially setting yourself down a path toward liver damage.

If you or anyone you know may be potentially be suffering from alcohol use disorder, do not hesitate to seek out professional help. And for more on the dangers of drinking too much, make sure you're aware of The Single Most Dangerous Drink for Your Body, Say Experts.

William Mayle
William Mayle is a UK-based writer who specializes in science, health, fitness, and other lifestyle topics. Read more
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