We’ve all seen horror stories about how a single night of drinking can lead to DUIs, car crashes, and other terrible events. But while the immediate dangers of drinking too much in one night are readily visible in news stories and our communities, drinking too often over an extended period of time can also have negative consequences on our health. Fortunately, by following a few simple healthy living guidelines, we can all reduce our risk of developing the health problems associated with heavy and long-term drinking.
The Health Risks Of Consuming Alcohol
As stated earlier, alcohol can have both short term and long-term effects on our health. In the short-term, drinking too much alcohol can put you at risk of suffering from several health-related issues, including:
- Injury or death due to car crashes, falls, burns and other accidents
- Serious injury or death due to various violent crimes or risky behaviors
- Alcohol poisoning, a medical emergency that results from high blood alcohol levels
These immediate risks, however, are just the beginning of the potential health-related consequences of heavy, high-risk or binge drinking. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the C.D.C., drinking too much alcohol not only increases people’s risk of suffering an injury or fatal accident due to a night of drunkenness; it can also contribute to the development of multiple chronic diseases and other serious problems. Examples of the physical health problems associated with high levels of alcohol consumption over time include:
- A variety of health-related illnesses, including high blood pressure, heart disease, an irregular heartbeat, and stroke
- Liver disease
- Inflammation and degeneration of the pancreas
- Digestive problems
- Learning and memory problems
- Cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon
There are also a range of non-physical health issues associated with drinking too much, including depression and anxiety and alcohol dependence, or alcoholism.
Given the fact that alcohol is connected to so many health issues, it’s important for anyone who consumes alcohol to recognize the risks of doing so – and to take steps to minimize their risk factors.
How Much Is Too Much?: Safely Consuming Alcohol
While many problems have been tied to excess drinking, following moderate drinking guidelines will minimize your risk of suffering from a complication associated with alcohol consumption. Some studies have even suggested that moderate drinking offers some health benefits to some individuals; since many of these benefits haven’t been definitively proven, however, it’s best to think of moderate drinking as a preventative health step as opposed to a beneficial one.
Because of this, regular and current drinkers alike can benefit from cutting back their alcohol consumption to a moderate level. Currently the Dietary Guidelines for Americans defines moderate drinking as no more than 1 drink per day for women and no more than 2 drinks per day for men. Examples of one drink, as listed by the C.D.C., include:
- Beer: 12 fluid ounces (355 milliliters)
- Wine: 5 fluid ounces (148 milliliters)
- Distilled spirits (80 proof): 1.5 fluid ounces (44 milliliters)
If you’re already dealing with a health problem of some sort, however, it’s important to speak to your doctor to see if they have any additional input on how much alcohol you can safely consume. It’s particularly important to discuss limiting or eliminating alcohol consumption from your life altogether if:
- You’re pregnant or trying to start a family
- You, or your family, have a history of alcoholism or alcohol abuse
- You’re currently suffering from liver or pancreatic disease
- You’re dealing with heart issues or have suffered from a hemorrhagic stroke
- You take any medications that are known to interact with alcohol
- You are currently under the legal drinking age
Following these guidelines and working with your doctor will help you minimize your risk of suffering from an alcohol-related health issue. We also want to stress that even moderate drinking can lead to impairment in the wrong circumstances. Because of this, adhering to local drinking laws (particularly those related to age requirements and driving) and taking steps to drink responsibly is a must for anyone who drinks. And if you ever have specific questions or concerns about alcohol and your health, we invite you to call your doctor and to speak to us directly to ensure that you avoid any drinking-related health problems.
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