Health risks of alcohol use
Beer, wine, and liquor all contain alcohol. Drinking an excessive amount of alcohol can put you at risk for alcohol-related problems.
Alcoholism - risks; Alcohol abuse - risks; Alcohol dependence - risks; Risky drinking
Definition of Alcohol Use
Beer, wine, and liquor all contain alcohol. If you are drinking any of these, you are using alcohol. Your drinking patterns may vary, depending on who you are with and what you are doing.
Drinking an excessive amount of alcohol can put you at risk for alcohol-related problems if:
One drink is defined as 12 ounces (355 milliliters, mL) of beer, 5 ounces (148 mL) of wine, or a 1 1/2-ounce (44 mL) shot of liquor.
Alcohol Use and Your Health
Long-term excessive alcohol use increases your chances of:
Excessive drinking can also:
Alcohol can affect your thinking and judgment each time you drink. Long-term excessive alcohol use damages brain cells. This can lead to lasting damage to your memory, thinking, and the way you behave.
Damage to nerves from alcohol use can cause many problems, including:
Drinking during pregnancy can harm the growing baby. Severe birth defects or fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) may occur.
How Alcohol Use Can Affect Your Life
People often drink to make themselves feel better or to block feelings of sadness, depression, nervousness, or worry. But alcohol can:
Families are often affected when someone in the home uses alcohol. Violence and conflict in the home is much more likely when a family member is abusing alcohol. Children who grow up in a home where alcohol abuse is present are more likely to:
Drinking too much alcohol even once can harm you or others. It can lead to any of the following:
What You Can Do
First, ask yourself what type of drinker you are?
Even if you are a responsible drinker, drinking too much just once can be harmful.
Be aware of your drinking patterns. Learn ways to cut back on drinking.
If you cannot control your drinking or if your drinking is becoming harmful to yourself or others, seek help from:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Fact sheets: alcohol use and your health. www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm. Updated December 30, 2019. Accessed January 23, 2020.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism website. Alcohol & your health. www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health. Accessed January 23, 2020.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism website. Alcohol use disorder. www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-use-disorders. Accessed January 23, 2020.
O'Connor PG. Alcohol use disorders. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 30.
Sherin K, Seikel S, Hale S. Alcohol use disorders. In: Rakel RE, Rakel DP, eds. Textbook of Family Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 48.
US Preventive Services Task Force. Screening and behavioral counseling interventions to reduce unhealthy alcohol use in adolescents and adults: US Preventive Services Task Force recommendation statement. JAMA. 2018;320(18):1899–1909. PMID: 30422199 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30422199/.
Review Date: 1/23/2020
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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