Alcohol is one the most commonly consumed substances in today’s society, used by millions of people throughout the United States. While most people know that drinking too much can lead to injuries and deaths in car crashes, many people do not realize that drinking too much can also increase the chances of suicide, unintended pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections and other adverse health concerns. Many people are unaware of what alcohol can do to the human body over time — for example, causing different kinds of cancer. While reading this article, I invite you to take time to reflect on your drinking habits and learn about the dangers of drinking too much.
Drinking too much alcohol can affect your body inside and out. So first, let’s be clear about what “too much” looks like. A standard drink contains 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol — for example, one 12-ounce beer with 5% alcohol, or 5 ounces of wine. Moderate drinking, according to Dietary Guidelines for Americans, is defined as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “too much” drinking includes binge and heavy drinking. Binge drinking is defined as consuming four or more (for women) and five or more (for men) drinks during a single occasion. Heavy drinking is defined as consuming eight or more (for women) and 15 or more (for men) drinks per week.
Now that we know what “too much” means, let’s look at the various short- and long-term side effects associated with excessive drinking. Did you know that excessive alcohol use is responsible for 88,000 deaths in the United States each year? It has immediate effects that increase the risk of many harmful health conditions. These include:
• Injuries, such as motor vehicle crashes, falls, drownings and burns
• Violence, including homicide, suicide, sexual assault and intimate partner violence
• Alcohol poisoning
• Risky sexual behaviors, including unprotected sex or sex with multiple partners, which can result in unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV
• Miscarriage, stillbirth or fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) among pregnant women
Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases and other serious problems, including:
• High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease and digestive issues
• Cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, liver and colon
• Learning and memory problems, including dementia and poor school performance
• Mental health problems, including lost productivity, family problems and unemployment
• Alcohol dependence or alcoholism
Whether consuming too much alcohol on a single occasion or over time, both actions can take a severe toll on your health. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans advise adults who choose to drink to do so in moderation. However, the guidelines do not recommend that people start drinking for any reason. What would it be like if we put an end to alcohol use and focused on living healthy and robust lives?