The amount of alcohol that can cause health risks to people under 40 may be substantially lower than first thought.
A safe daily limit for younger men is just one small, 38ml shot glass of beer per day, a new study suggests.
Women aged 39 and under can have a little more – two tablespoons of wine, or 100ml or beer.
The research is drastically at odds with guidance from the NHS, which recommends Britons avoid regularly drinking more than 14 units per week.
That’s equivalent to six pints of average-strength beer, or 10 small glasses of low-strength wine.
However, for those aged over 40, a drink or two can actually help ward off heart disease, strokes and diabetes.
And for over 65s, the risks of “health loss from alcohol consumption” are only reached from the fourth standard drink onwards.
Researchers are calling for stronger guidance to warn younger adults of the health dangers posed by drinking – and say there should be tailored alcohol guidance to depend on a person’s age and where they live in the world.
Some 1.34 billion people are estimated to have consumed harmful amounts of alcohol in 2020, according to the analysis of drinking habits in 204 countries around the world.
The study found 59% of those who drank harmful amounts were aged 15 to 39, and three-quarters of harmful drinkers were men.
They said alcohol provides no health benefit in people aged under 40 – and poses risks including injuries relating to drinking or car accidents, suicides and murders.
Senior author Dr Emmanuela Gakidou, professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine in the US, said: “Our message is simple – young people should not drink, but older people may benefit from drinking small amounts.
“While it may not be realistic to think young adults will abstain from drinking, we do think it’s important to communicate the latest evidence so that everyone can make informed decisions about their health.”
Researchers looked at the risk of alcohol consumption on 22 health outcomes, including injuries, cardiovascular diseases and cancers using 2020 Global Burden of Disease data.
They used the information to estimate how much alcohol a person can drink before taking on excess risks to their health compared with someone who does not drink any alcohol.
They found the level of alcohol that can be consumed without increasing health risks rises throughout a lifetime.
“This is driven by differences in the major causes of death and disease burden at different ages,” the authors wrote.
“Any level of drinking leads to a higher probability of injuries, while small amounts of alcohol decrease the risk of some conditions prevalent in older ages, such as ischaemic heart disease and diabetes.”