But a new paper in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research suggests that — for reasons that aren't entirely clear — abstaining from alcohol does tend to increase one's risk of dying, even when you exclude former problem drinkers. The most shocking part? Abstainers' mortality rates are higher than those of heavy drinkers.
Moderate drinking, which is defined as one to three drinks per day, is associated with the lowest mortality rates in alcohol studies. Moderate alcohol use (especially when the beverage of choice is red wine) is thought to improve heart health, circulation and sociability, which can be important because people who are isolated don't have as many family members and friends who can notice and help treat health problems.
The report acknowledges that there may other factors involved, such as previous health issues of non-drinkers, socioeconomic class, and physical activity. However, over a twenty year period, even accounting for those variables, the report states, "mortality rates were highest for those who were not current drinkers, regardless of whether they used to be alcoholics, second highest for heavy drinkers and lowest for moderate drinkers."
Or maybe happy people simply live longer.
See "Why Do Heavy Drinkers Outlive Nondrinkers?" for the complete story.