The research found that people who reported weekly drinking of 100-200g, 200-350g or more than 350g had an estimated lower life expectancy at age 40 years of approximately 6 months, 1-2 years, or 4-5 years, respectively.
Those having ten or more drinks, roughly two bottles of wine, had their life expectancy slashed by up to two years, while those drinking 18 or more alcoholic beverages a week can expect to live five years less.
The researchers examined alcohol's impact on causes of death related to cardiovascular disease, which includes stroke, heart failure, fatal hypertensive disease and fatal aortic aneurysm. Duke University's Dr. Dan Blazer, one of the study's co-authors, said, "This study has shown that drinking alcohol at levels which were believed to be safe is actually linked with lower life expectancy and several adverse health outcomes".
The worldwide team analysed data on almost 600,000 drinkers aged 30-100, from 83 studies in 19 high-income countries.
About half of those studied reported drinking more than 12.5 units a week - roughly five pints or medium glasses of wine - while nearly one in ten (8.5 per cent) consumed more than triple that amount.
While the study also found alcohol consumption was linked to a lower risk of non-fatal heart attacks, experts said "on balance" there are no health benefits from drinking. For example, US guidelines recommend that men drink no more than 196 grams (7 ounces) per week, or 14 standard drinks.
In Canada, it's recommended women drink a maximum of two glasses of beer or wine per day.
In contrast, drinking more was associated with a lower risk of non-fatal heart attacks.
The more people drank, the higher the risk of a range of life threatening illnesses, including stroke and heart failure. (For women, US guidelines fall within these recommended amounts, at no more than 98 grams a week.) In Canada, guidelines recommend no more than 136 grams (4.8 ounces) per week for women, and no more than 204 grams (7 ounces) per week for men.
"We should always remember that alcohol guidelines should act as a limit, not a target, and try to drink well below this threshold", said Victoria Taylor, a senior dietitian at the British Heart Foundation.
In many other countries, the guidelines for "safe" drinking are up to double the actual safe level, the researchers said.
Tim Chico, professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Sheffield, reckons the study is proof that drinking lots and getting away with it is "too good to be true".
Earlier studies had found women feel the effects of alcohol much quicker than men for numerous reasons, including the average man weighing more than the average women.
The recommended limits in Italy, Portugal, and Spain are nearly 50% higher than this.
Authors of the Lancet study said their findings backed up the new guidelines and also said they did not find an increased risk of death for light drinkers.
Several Australian studies were part of this collaboration, contributing to the research and making the findings relevant to Australians. But this study also suggests that whatever level you drink at, even if it's under the guidelines, drinking even less will help reduce your health risks.
There are some health benefits to be gained from drinking moderate amounts of alcohol, but science cautions that it will start negatively affecting your health past a certain threshold.