All-Cause Mortality

What is “all-cause mortality?” All-cause mortality represents the death rate in a population from any and all causes. Thousands of research studies have examined the impact that a particular behavior or characteristic has on mortality – meaning, whether that factor is associated with higher or lower than average death rates.

Every five years, the federal government updates the Dietary Guidelines for Americans with the best and most recent evidence. The most recent federal review of the research on adult alcohol use and all-cause mortality indicates that there is some (or “limited”) evidence that links drinking in moderation with a reduced risk of all-cause-mortality: “Limited evidence suggests that low average alcohol consumption, particularly without binge drinking, is associated with a lower risk of all-cause mortality compared with never drinking alcohol.”1

Specifically, the review found the following: “About half of the studies reported significant findings that low average alcohol consumption (particularly without binge drinking) compared with never drinking alcohol was associated with lower risk of mortality. About half of the studies indicated no significant relationship.”

Consistent with this review, the majority of research on this relationship indicates decreased risk of all-cause mortality among people who consume low or moderate amounts of alcohol, compared with those who do not drink alcohol; and the highest risk of all-cause mortality for those who consume excessive amounts of alcohol over their life.

Depicting this pattern (i.e., nondrinkers having a slightly higher risk of all-cause mortality than low or moderate drinkers, and excessive or harmful drinkers having the highest risk of all-cause mortality) in a graph, it produces what is referred to as a J-Curve.

Below (Figure 1) is an example of what a ‘J-curve’ relationship looks like. People who do not engage in an “action” are used as the comparison group, with this group having the typical “outcome.” In this example, the red line shows that people who engage a little bit in the action have lower odds of the outcome, and people who engage in a lot of the action have much higher odds of the outcome.


  1. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. 2020. Scientific Report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee: Advisory Report to the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Health and Human Services. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Washington, DC. Retrieved from: