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New study says alcohol plays role in many health problems, early death

In 2016, alcohol use led to as many as 8 million deaths worldwide, and was the leading risk factor for early death and disability for teens and young adults, 15-to-49 years old.

NEW ORLEANS -- A new study in The Lancet, is getting attention because it finds the only way to avoid the risks of drinking, is to avoid alcohol all together.

This study stands out from others, says the Associate Director of the LSU Health Alcohol and Drug Abuse Center. Dr. Nick Gilpin says it's global, with hundreds of researchers looking at people 15-to-95-years-old over the span of 26 years.

"It's huge and it obviously took a lot of effort and I think it's impressive for its scope," said Dr. Gilpin, LSUHSC Associate Professor of Physiology and Neuroscience.

And unlike much smaller studies, instead of looking at one piece of health, such as heart disease, this one looked at the big picture, biological, like cancers and strokes, and behavioral, like wrecks and violence. It also looked at the type, proof and amount of alcohol at different ages.

"Adolescents, we know the brain is developing until the age of 25, especially the cortex, so it's especially vulnerable to alcohol and drug effects," Dr. Gilpin said. "We know that binging has particularly negative effects on the brain and potentially other organs."

The study showed that the only way to lower your risk of the many health problems that lead to death, or impairment and disability, was to have no alcohol, a substance that's been called a toxin in some medical literature.

"Even individuals that are on the lower end of the spectrum, drinking what we consider to be low amounts of alcohol, faired worse than individuals drinking no alcohol," he said.

Even with a well known study showing that drinking red wine helped lower heart disease, it is still unclear how much of the benefit comes from the healthful, natural chemicals in the grape skins, or the alcohol.

"To conclude, for example, that alcohol is healthy, based on a potentially slightly lower risk for heart disease, would be not very logical, because you're ignoring about 1,000 other potential health impacts of alcohol," Dr. Gilpin said.

And while tourists vacationing in New Orleans and drinking on Bourbon Street is far, far from a scientific sample, we got their predictable reactions to the study.

"If I want to drink alcohol, I'm going to drink alcohol, and if it's going to make my life shorter, then at least I know what I'm dying from," said Adam Wetzel, visiting from Ohio.

"You only have one life and as long as you don't abuse it you're fine," said Tami Bechtel, a respiratory therapist, in town from Charleston, South Carolina, celebrating her birthday.

"I heard about a story about that online. I don't believe in that. Alcohol's good for the soul," said Tony Johnson, in town from Fort Lauderdale with a group of men for a bachelor party.

The study also found that men suffered from far more health loss from alcohol use than women.

View the scientific study here.

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