Alcoholism and alcohol-related problems touch all Americans, directly or indirectly, and is one of our nation’s leading public health problems. Currently, nearly 14 million Americans — 1 in every 13 adults — abuse alcohol or are alcoholics. Several million more adults engage in risky drinking patterns that could lead to alcohol problems. In addition, approximately 53 percent of men and women in the United States report one or more of their close relatives have a drinking problem. And, purely in economic terms, alcohol use problems cost society more than $224 billion per year due to lost productivity, health care costs, business and criminal justice costs (the equivalent of $746 for every man, woman and child in the United States).
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, if you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation, which is defined as no more than 1 drink per day for women and no more than 2 drinks per day for men. A drink is defined as:
- 12-ounces of Beer or Cooler
- 8-ounces of Malt Liquor
- 5-ounces of Wine
- 1.5-ounces or “shot” of Distilled Spirits/Liquor.
However, there are some persons who should not drink any alcohol, including those who are;
- Pregnant or trying to become pregnant.
- Taking prescription or over-the-counter medications that may cause harmful reactions when mixed with alcohol.
- Younger than age 21.
- Recovering from alcoholism or are unable to control the amount they drink.
- Suffering from a medical condition that may be worsened by alcohol.
- Driving, planning to drive, or participating in other activities requiring skill, coordination, and alertness.
Immediate Health Risks
Excessive alcohol use has immediate effects that increase the risk of many harmful health conditions. These immediate effects are most often the result of binge drinking and include the following—
- Unintentional injuries, including traffic injuries, falls, drownings, burns, and unintentional firearm injuries.
- Violence, including intimate partner violence and child maltreatment. About 35% of victims report that offenders are under the influence of alcohol. Alcohol use is also associated with 2 out of 3 incidents of intimate partner violence. Studies have also shown that alcohol is a leading factor in child maltreatment and neglect cases, and is the most frequent substance abused among these parents.
- Risky sexual behaviors, including unprotected sex, sex with multiple partners, and increased risk of sexual assault. These behaviors can result in unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases.
- Miscarriage and stillbirth among pregnant women, and a combination of physical and mental birth defects among children that last throughout life.
- Alcohol poisoning, a medical emergency that results from high blood alcohol levels that suppress the central nervous system and can cause loss of consciousness, low blood pressure and body temperature, coma, respiratory depression, or death.
Long-Term Health Risks
Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases, neurological impairments and social problems. These include but are not limited to—
- Neurological problems, including dementia, stroke and neuropathy.
- Cardiovascular problems, including myocardial infarction, cardiomyopathy, atrial fibrillation and hypertension.
- Psychiatric problems, including depression, anxiety, and suicide.
- Social problems, including unemployment, lost productivity, and family problems.
- Cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon, and breast. In general, the risk of cancer increases with increasing amounts of alcohol.
- Liver diseases, including—
- Alcoholic hepatitis.
- Cirrhosis, which is among the 15 leading causes of all deaths in the United States.
- Among persons with Hepatitis C virus, worsening of liver function and interference with medications used to treat this condition. Other gastrointestinal problems, including pancreatitis and gastritis.