Throughout antiquity, drinkers have justified their habits -- the wife, the job, mates at the pub. Now in recent years, imbibers belly up to the bar citing peer-reviewed scientific journals and articles in the Economist linking alcohol consumption to improved health.

However, several scientists criticized an editorial-based on studies published in the journal Addiction -- touting the purported health benefits of drinking alcohol, even in moderation, saying most evidence derives from associations rather than causal links.

Studies in recent years show that people who consume one or two drinks daily also have a lowered risk for more than 20 health problems, including coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and viruses that cause the common cold.

A 20-year study of 1,824 people ages 55 to 65 found that moderate drinkers survived at greater rates than either non-drinkers or heavy drinkers, with 41 percent dying during that time period in comparison with 69 percent and 61 percent, respectively. A University of Texas at Austin study, for example, controlled for socioeconomic status, physical activity levels, social support and preexisting health. Other studies found drinkers, more social on average, were less likely to suffer from depression-related ailments contributing to mortality.

Yet, associations between moderate drinking and health benefits should not compel people to start drinking-or to justify heavy drinking, researchers warn. Dr. Richard Saitz, professor at Boston University Schools of Medicine and Public Health and editor of the journal Evidence-Based Medicine, remained unimpressed by the coincidences.

"People who drink low risk amounts are much more likely to get mammograms and have their teeth checked by a dentist, to go see a physician for a physical, to exercise," Saitz said. "We don't think that low amounts of alcohol cause people to go to the dentist," Saitz said. "That's just an association."

Dr. Sharonne Hayes of the Women's Heart Clinic at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, says the sentiment may come as welcome relief to people who abstain from alcohol for reasons of preference-regardless of the risk of developing an alcohol dependence disorder.

"It tends to be little old ladies who have a heart attack and they read somewhere that alcohol is good and they start having a nightcap," Hayes told Reuters Health. "They hold their nose and drink it, an ounce of brandy before bedtime, they don't even like it."

"It's with great relief that I tell them they don't need to do that anymore," Hayes said.