Researchers found that those who did not consume any alcohol appeared to have a higher mortality rate, regardless of whether they were former heavy drinkers or not, than those who drank heavily.
The team led by Charles Holahan, a psychologist at the University of Texas, found moderate drinking defined as one to three drinks per day - was associated with the lowest mortality rate, 'The Independent' reported.
The study set out to examine the association between alcohol consumption and all-cause mortality over 20 years among 1,824 older adults.
The study found that controlling only for age and gender, compared to moderate drinkers, abstainers had a more than 2 times increased mortality risk, heavy drinkers had 70 per cent increased risk, and light drinkers had 23 per cent increased risk.
"A model controlling for former problem drinking status, existing health problems, and key sociodemographic and social-behavioural factors, as well as for age and gender, substantially reduced the mortality effect for abstainers compared to moderate drinkers," the authors noted in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.
"However, even after adjusting for all covariates, abstainers and heavy drinkers continued to show increased mortality risks of 51 and 45 per cent, respectively, compared to moderate drinkers," they said.
"Even after taking account of traditional and non-traditional covariates, moderate alcohol consumption continued to show a beneficial effect in predicting mortality risk," they concluded.