Researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, assessed environmental and genetic risk factors for rheumatoid arthritis among 2,750 people taking part in two separate studies.
More than half of the participants who had the disease were matched for age, sex and residential locality with randomly selected members of the general public.
All participants were quizzed about their lifestyle, including how much they smoked and drank and blood samples were taken to check for genetic risk factors.
The study, published online ahead of print in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, found among those who drank regularly, the one-quarter with the highest alcohol consumption were up to 50 percent less likely to develop the disease compared to the half who drank the least.
However, the researchers concluded that giving up smoking remains the single most important preventive measure.