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Home How much is too much What's the harm? What are the consequences?

What are the consequences?

There is a wide range of short- and long-term consequences associated with alcohol misuse. For some individuals, any amount of drinking could be potentially harmful.

Fatalities and injuries. Alcohol-related deaths are increasing in the United States. Alcohol is a factor in about 30 percent of suicides, about 40 percent of fatal burn injuries, about 50 percent of fatal drownings and of homicides, and about 65 percent of fatal falls. Around 29 percent of all motor vehicle traffic fatalities involve alcohol. The rate of alcohol-related emergency department visits increased by nearly 50 percent from 2006 to 2014, and about one-third of injuries treated at trauma centers are alcohol related. In addition, a significant number of sexual assaults involve alcohol use.

Alcohol-related blackouts. Blackouts are gaps in a person’s memory for events that occurred while they were intoxicated. These gaps happen when a person drinks enough alcohol to temporarily block the transfer of memories from short- to long-term storage—known as memory consolidation—in a brain area called the hippocampus.

Health problems. Drinking is associated with a number of health problems and can make certain chronic health problems worse. Half of liver disease deaths in the United States are caused by alcohol, and alcohol-associated liver disease is increasing, particularly among women and young people. Research has shown an important association between alcohol consumption and breast cancer—for each 10 grams of alcohol consumed (less than 1 standard drink) on an average daily basis, a woman’s chance of developing postmenopausal breast cancer increases by around 9 percent. Individuals who carry certain gene variants associated with alcohol-related flushing (e.g., the ALDH2-2 variant) are at an elevated risk of esophageal cancer from alcohol consumption. Research has also shown that alcohol misuse increases the risk of liver disease, cardiovascular diseases, depression, and stomach bleeding, as well as cancers of the oral cavity, esophagus, larynx, pharynx, liver, colon, and rectum. People who misuse alcohol may also have problems managing conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, pain, and sleep disorders. And people who misuse alcohol are more likely to engage in unsafe sexual behavior, putting themselves and others at risk for sexually transmitted infections and unintentional pregnancies.

Why is being able to “hold your liquor” a concern?

For some people who drink, it takes quite a few drinks to “get a buzz” or feel relaxed, and they may be less likely to show signs of intoxication compared to others.

This is sometimes called being able to “hold your liquor” or “drink someone under the table.” Often these individuals are unaware that their bodyʾs lower response to the intoxicating effects of alcohol isnʾt protection from alcohol problems but instead is a reason for caution.

These individuals tend to drink more, socialize with people who drink a lot, and develop a tolerance to alcohol (i.e., it takes more and more alcohol to feel or act intoxicated). As a result, they have an increased risk for developing AUD. Someone who misuses alcohol, especially over the long-term, can experience permanent liver, heart, or brain damage. And all people who drink, regardless of the amount, need to be aware that critical decision-making abilities and driving-related skills are already diminished long before a person shows physical signs of intoxication.

Birth defects. Prenatal alcohol exposure can result in brain damage and other serious problems in babies. The effects are known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, or FASD, and can result in lifelong physical, cognitive, and behavioral problems. Because there is no known safe level of alcohol for a developing baby, women who are pregnant or might be pregnant should not drink.

Alcohol use disorder (AUD). AUD is characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences. Some signs of AUD are continuing to drink even though it is causing trouble with your family or at work; drinking more than you intended; having to drink more than before to get a desired effect; being unable to stop drinking after repeated attempts; or continuing to drink despite negative consequences. Other signs of AUD may include drinking to alleviate negative emotions such as feeling "low," anxious, uneasy, unhappy, unwell, dissatisfied with life, or other negative emotions that were caused or worsened by alcohol misuse. Learn more about the symptoms of AUD. Having any of these symptoms may be a cause for concern. The more symptoms one has, the more urgent the need for change.

What is AUD?

AUD is a medical condition that healthcare professionals diagnose when a patient’s drinking pattern causes significant distress or harm. AUD can be mild, moderate, or severe, and it encompasses the conditions that some people refer to as alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence, and the colloquial term, alcoholism. AUD can cause lasting changes in the brain that make patients vulnerable to relapse. The good news is that no matter how severe the problem may seem, most people with AUD can benefit from treatment with behavioral therapies, medications, or both.

Beyond these physical and mental health risks, frequent alcohol misuse also is linked with personal problems, such as losing one’s driver’s license or having relationship troubles.

Is your "lite" beer light in alcohol?

Not necessarily. Although they have fewer calories, many light beers have almost as much alcohol as regular beer—about 85% as much, or 4.2% versus 5.0% alcohol by volume, on average.

Check the alcohol content of your beverage. Malt beverages are not required to list their alcohol content on the labels, so you may need to visit the bottler's Web site.

See What's a standard drink?

How many "drinks" are in a bottle of wine?

A typical 25-ounce (750 ml) bottle of table wine holds about 5 "standard" drinks, each containing about 5 ounces. This serving size of wine contains about the same amount of alcohol as a 12-ounce regular beer or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits.

Get to know what 5 ounces looks like by measuring it out at home. That way you can estimate how many standard drinks you're being served in a restaurant or bar that uses large glasses and generous serving sizes.

See What's a standard drink?

Mixing alcohol with certain medications can cause nausea, headaches, drowsiness, fainting, a loss of coordination, internal bleeding, heart problems, and difficulties in breathing. Alcohol can also make a medication less effective. For more information, see Harmful Interactions: Mixing Alcohol with Medicines.

Examples of medical conditions for which it's safest to avoid drinking include liver disease (such as from hepatitis C), bipolar disorder, abnormal heart rhythm, and chronic pain.

Among the dangers of underage drinking:

Even moderate amounts of alcohol can significantly impair driving performance and your ability to operate other machinery, whether or not you feel the effects of alcohol.

Heavy drinking during pregnancy can cause brain damage and other serious problems in the baby. Because it is not yet known whether any amount of alcohol is safe for a developing baby, women who are pregnant or may become pregnant should not drink.

Highest risk

About 50% of people who drink in this group have alcohol use disorder.

Increased risk

This "increased risk" category contains three different drinking pattern groups. Overall, nearly 20% of people who drink in this category have alcohol use disorder.

Low-risk drinking

Only about 2% of drinkers in this group has alcohol use disorder.

A U.S. standard drink contains about 0.6 fluid ounces or 14 grams of pure alcohol (also known as an alcoholic drink-equivalent). That's the amount in 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of table wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.

Low risk levels: Men: <= 4 drinks/day, <= 14 drinks/week. Women: <= 3 drinks/day, <= 7 drinks/week

Distilled spirits include vodka, whiskey, gin, rum, and tequila.

Light to moderate drinking

Heavy or at-risk drinking

Low-risk drinking

Men: No more than 4 drinks on any day and no more than 14 per week

Women: No more than 3 drinks on any day and no more than 7 per week

People with a parent, grandparent, or other close relative with alcoholism have a higher risk for becoming dependent on alcohol. For many, it may be difficult to maintain low-risk drinking habits.

Pace yourself: It's best to have no more than one standard drink per hour, with nonalcoholic "drink spacers" between alcohol beverages. On any day, stay within low-risk levels of no more than 4 drinks for men or 3 for women. Note that it takes about 2 hours for the adult body to completely break down a single drink. Do not drive after drinking.

For comparison, regular beer is 5% alcohol by volume (alc/vol), table wine is about 12% alc/vol, and straight 80-proof distilled spirits is 40% alc/vol.

The percent alcohol by volume (alc/vol) for distilled spirits is listed on bottle labels and may be found online as well. It is half the "proof," such that 80-proof spirits is 40% alc/vol.

Convert proof to alc/vol

Enter in the proof of the alcohol in the left field to automatically calculate the alc/vol.


  
 

Convert to fluid ounces

Enter in the measurement in milliliters in the left field to automatically calculate the amount in fluid ounces.