Australia guidelines say that 14 standard drinks or seven pints of beer or around nine glasses of wine per week is safe. The study found that people who down more than seven drinks a week can expect to die sooner than those who drink less.
Recommended alcohol limits in many countries should be lowered to around 100g/week for men and women, according to an analysis of data from almost 600,000 current drinkers in 19 countries published in medical journal, The Lancet.
The new study estimates that 40-year-old men who drink as much as the current USA guidelines allow can expect to live one to two years less than men who have no more than seven drinks per week. Some countries have much higher ceilings.
The booziness of drinks is measured by standard alcohol units - in other words the amount of the drink that has 10 grams of pure alcohol in it.
Jake Najman, Emeritus Professor from the Queensland Alcohol and Drug Research and Education Centre (QADREC) at The University of Queensland, says the study suggests even modest quantities of alcohol increase the risk of earlier death. Women's figures are two a day and 10 a week.
But Victoria Taylor, senior dietician at the British Heart Foundation, which partly funded the study, said this did not mean the United Kingdom "should rest on its laurels". The group partly funded the study, which was published Thursday by the Lancet journal.
Drinkers who ignore alcohol consumption guidelines could be cutting years off their lives, researchers say.
But they said drinking at all levels increased the risk of cardiovascular illnesses.
Drinking the equivalent of 100-200g of pure alcohol a week shortened life expectancy by about six months compared to drinking less than 100g, they found.
That's equivalent to 10 standard drinks, well below Australian guidelines advising adults to limit themselves to two standard drinks a day (20g alcohol) to reduce their lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury.
"Any benefits are outweighed by the higher risk of other heart and circulatory diseases such as stroke and heart failure". That may partly reflect that alcohol can elevate blood pressure and alter cholesterol levels, the researchers said.
"The key message of this research for public health is that, if you already drink alcohol, drinking less may help you live longer and lower your risk of several cardiovascular conditions", said the study's lead author Dr Angela Wood, from the University of Cambridge, in a statement.
The study may mean many Americans are reaching their weekly totals in one night. Researchers relied on what participants reported drinking at the start, recognising that many people may be lowballing how much they actually down.