Image: Beer
Toby Talbot  /  AP
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updated 3/30/2012 5:23:25 PM ET 2012-03-30T21:23:25

Up until you're 21, you're told that drinking alcohol is bad. Then you're suddenly told that, really, it's drinking alcohol and driving that's bad. The latter is definitely true. But the former? Scientists aren't so sure.

Case in point: During a five-year period, lifetime alcohol abstainers were 19 percent more likely to die than regular drinkers, defined as having one or two drinks, three or more days a week, say Virginia Tech University researchers.

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Those who never touched the bottle were also roughly 56 percent (!) more likely to experience coronary heart disease than regular drinkers, found the scientists, who crunched data from a government survey of nearly half a million Americans.

Could moderate drinking save your life?

So what power does alcohol hold, besides making you awesome at karaoke? Past research has shown that alcohol can raise good cholesterol, lower bad cholesterol, and can reduce those blood problems that lead to clogged arteries. It can even lower your risk for diabetes.

But don't start pounding half-a-dozen RBVs every night. (For one thing, mixing energy drinks and alcohol is a bad idea.) The Virginia Tech study shows that heavy drinking, defined as at least three drinks, three or more days a week, is even worse for you than abstaining. (Although not by much, and non-drinkers were more susceptible to heart disease.)

Instead, look for healthy alcohol options, such as a low-calorie beer like Beamish Irish Stout. If you're more of a wine guy, avoid bottles with red or yellow labels. They're designed to draw your attention, and usually mean the wine's not worth your taste buds.

More Links:
The Hazards of Binge Drinking
4 Strange Reasons You Drink Too Much
Regular Drinking vs. Binge Drinking
The Danger of Drinking at a New Bar

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