Alcohol Use and Your Health

Excessive alcohol drinking might be harmful to your health. From 2011 to 2015, excessive alcohol usage resulted in roughly 95,000 fatalities and 2.8 million years of potential life lost (YPLL) in the United States, reducing the lives of those who died by an average of 29 years. Excessive drinking was also responsible for one out of every ten fatalities among working-age people aged 20 to 64 years. In 2010, the economic consequences of excessive alcohol use were projected to be $249 billion, or $2.05 per drink.

What is a standard drink?

A normal drink in the United States comprises 0.6 ounces (14.0 grams or 1.2 tablespoons) of pure alcohol. This quantity of pure alcohol is typically seen in

  • 12-ounces of beer (5% alcohol content).
  • 8-ounces of malt liquor (7% alcohol content).
  • 5-ounces of wine (12% alcohol content).
  • 1.5-ounces of 80-proof (40% alcohol content) distilled spirits or liquor (e.g., gin, rum, vodka, whiskey).

What is excessive drinking?

Binge drinking, heavy drinking, and any drinking by pregnant women or those under the age of 21 are all examples of excessive drinking.

  • Binge drinking, the most common form of excessive drinking, is defined as consuming
    • For women, 4 or more drinks during a single occasion.
    • For men, 5 or more drinks during a single occasion.
  • Heavy drinking is defined as consuming
    • For women, 8 or more drinks per week.
    • For men, 15 or more drinks per week.

What is moderate drinking?

Adults of legal drinking age can choose not to drink or drink in moderation by restricting intake to 2 drinks or less per day for males and 1 drink or fewer per day for women on days when alcohol is taken, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The Guidelines also do not advocate that people who do not drink alcohol begin drinking for any reason and that if adults of legal drinking age prefer to drink alcoholic drinks, drinking less is healthier than drinking more.

There are some people who should not drink any alcohol, including those who are:

  • Younger than age 21.
  • Pregnant or may be pregnant.
  • Driving, planning to drive, or participating in other activities requiring skill, coordination, and alertness.
  • Taking certain prescription or over-the-counter medications that can interact with alcohol.
  • Suffering from certain medical conditions.
  • Recovering from alcoholism or are unable to control the amount they drink.

Short-Term Health Risks

Excessive alcohol use has immediate consequences that raise the likelihood of a variety of serious health issues. These are the most common side effects of binge drinking and include the following:

  • Injuries, such as motor vehicle crashes, falls, drownings, and burns.
  • Violence, including homicide, suicide, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence.
  • Alcohol poisoning, a medical emergency that results from high blood alcohol levels.
  • Risky sexual behaviors, including unprotected sex or sex with multiple partners. These behaviors can result in unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.
  • Miscarriage and stillbirth or fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) among pregnant women.

Long-Term Health Risks

Excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic illnesses and other major difficulties over time, including:

  • High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive problems.
  • Cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, voice box, liver, colon, and rectum.
  • Weakening of the immune system, increasing the chances of getting sick.
  • Learning and memory problems, including dementia and poor school performance.
  • Mental health problems, including depression and anxiety.
  • Social problems, including family problems, job-related problems, and unemployment.
  • Alcohol use disorders, or alcohol dependence.

By not drinking too much, you can reduce the risk of these short- and long-term health risks.

One result of chronic alcoholism is the brain damage caused by long-term high alcohol intake. Certain areas of alcoholics’ brains atrophy, resulting in lesions and deficiencies in brain function.

According to brain imaging studies, the prefrontal cortex (in the front of the brain) and cerebellum (in the lower back of the brain) are particularly sensitive to the consequences of long-term alcohol addiction.