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Your College Drinking Days May Lead to Liver Disease Later

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
What is drinking in moderation really?

When does drinking begin to increase the risk of liver disease? The answer surprised some researchers who followed thousands of men from late adolescence to middle age.


College or military service and beer are nearly synonymous for many young males with young healthy bodies that can shrug off a morning-after hangover and go on as if there is not a care in the world-except maybe for that exam or training material he should have been studying the night spent "having a few."

But according to an article published in the Journal of Hepatology, those young healthy bodies "having a few" may be setting themselves up for a future of liver disease as the study's findings reveal that men who drink alcohol in late adolescence are more likely to develop severe liver disease decades later than people who don't drink at all when they were younger.

In the study, an examination of alcohol consumption data involving 43,296 men who entered military service shortly after high school in 1969 and 1970 whose medical histories were followed for over nearly 40 years afterward, showed a significantly increased risk of developing severe liver disease by middle age.

In fact, their data suggests that each gram of alcohol consumed daily leads to a two percent increase in their risk of developing severe liver disease. To give this some perspective, one beer is roughly about 14 grams of alcohol.

The study found--not so surprisingly--that essentially the more alcohol a person drinks, the higher the risk increases for liver disease.

According to Reuters news, the study showed that:

"Young men who typically averaged 31 to 40 grams of alcohol (equivalent to roughly 3 to 5 ounces of spirits) daily had twice the risk of liver disease as abstainers, while youth who drank 51 to 60 grams daily had more than quadruple the risk of liver disease."

In other words, beer-wise, half a six-pack daily doubles the risk, and a full six-pack doubles the double.

The study also found--again, not so surprisingly--that those followed who developed liver disease, were alcoholics.

"We found that most of the study subjects that eventually developed severe liver disease were previously diagnosed with alcohol abuse or dependency," said lead study author Dr. Hannes Hagstrom of Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm.

The authors of the study do note that this is a limited study in that:

1. The study wasn't a controlled experiment designed to prove whether or how drinking habits early in life might cause liver disease decades later.

2. The data used was reliant upon the accuracy of the men to accurately recall and report on their drinking habits.

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3. Heavy drinkers are also more likely than other people to use drugs, increasing their risk of catching viral hepatitis by sharing needles or other drug paraphernalia.

4. There was no data regarding incidences of binge drinking, which might impact the effect of alcohol consumption on the liver.

So, what does the study tell us then that is of import?

Essentially it is more of a cautionary note to not just young men--but women as well--that health habits cultivated in the here and now can lead to health affects later. In other words, what you sow in your body you shall reap in disease--if those health habits are bad.

With respect to the study's findings, the data suggests that if you start drinking at an early age, then in all likelihood this habit will carryover well into late middle-age. And by late middle-age you will find yourself statistically more likely than non-habitual drinkers of the same age to develop liver disease.

The key point here is that alcohol is not the bug-a-booze some would have you think--as long as moderation is your health habit. The problem and big question, however, is just what really is "drinking in moderation" amount to in beers? According to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2 beers a day for men and one a day for women is considered to be moderate.

However, taken literally, that "daily" is troublesome. Take anything daily and it becomes a habit and can we really expect to consume 1-2 beers a day every day and not suffer in some way for it?!

If you have an opinion on what you consider to be "drinking in moderation" send us your thoughts in the reply section below.

For some informative articles where alcohol in moderation has good health benefits, click on the links listed below:

Moderate Alcohol Drinking May Have an Upside

Drinking alcohol in moderation linked to lower risk of depression


Reuters "Young men's drinking tied to later liver disease risk"

Journal of Hepatology March 2018 Volume 68, Issue 3, Pages 505-510 "Alcohol consumption in late adolescence is associated with an increased risk of severe liver disease later in life" Hannes Hagstrom et al.

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