Going teetotal is the only way to avoid risking health with alcohol, scientists have claimed.
Previous research suggested that moderate levels of alcohol – around one drink a day for women and two for men – may protect against heart disease.
But the authors of the new study insist any benefits from drinking alcohol are outweighed by the harms.
They estimate that consuming just one drink per day increases the risk of developing one of 23 alcohol-related health problems by 0.5 per cent, compared with not drinking at all.
“Previous studies have found a protective effect of alcohol on some conditions, but we found that the combined health risks associated with alcohol increase with any amount of alcohol,” US lead researcher from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, Dr Max Griswold said.
“In particular, the strong association between alcohol consumption and the risk of cancer, injuries, and infectious diseases offset the protective effects for ischaemic [coronary] heart disease in women in our study.
“Although the health risks associated with alcohol start off being small with one drink a day, they then rise rapidly as people drink more.”
The scientists pooled together data from 592 studies with a total of 28 million participants to assess the global health risks associated with alcohol.
The team used a new statistical method to estimate the risks of consuming between zero and 15 standard alcohol drinks each day.
Globally, around one in three people – or 2.4 billion – drink alcohol, said the researchers, whose findings are reported in The Lancet medical journal.
Each year, 2.2 per cent of women and 6.8 per cent of men die from alcohol-related health problems including cancer, tuberculosis and liver disease.
Other harmful consequences from drinking alcohol included accidents and violence.
Worldwide, drinking alcohol was the seventh leading risk factor for overall premature death and disease in 2016, the study found.
However among people aged 15 to 49 it was the most important risk factor, accounting for 3.8 of women’s and 12.2 per cent of men’s deaths.
For people over the age of 50, cancers were the leading cause of alcohol-related deaths. They were responsible for 27.1 per cent of alcohol-related deaths of women and 18.9 per cent of men.
The 0.5 per cent increase in risk meant that 918 people per 100,000 who consumed one alcoholic drink a day would develop a health problem compared with 914 who did not drink.
The relative increase in risk rose to 7 per cent for people who consumed two drinks a day and soared to 37 per cent for those who downed five drinks.
Any protection against heart disease, stroke and diabetes offered by alcohol turned out to be “not statistically significant”, said the researchers.
Denmark had the highest proportion of alcohol consumers, 95.3 per cent of women and 97.3 per cent of men, and Pakistan and Bangladesh the lowest. Just 0.8 per cent of Pakistani men and 0.3 per cent of Bangladeshi women drank alcohol.