Alcohol and Your Health

Alcohol and Your Health

On 18 Nov 2014, in health, Alcoholism

April is National Alcohol Awareness Month. Approximately 80,000 deaths are attributed to excessive alcohol use each year in the United States. This makes excessive alcohol use the 3rd leading lifestyle-related cause of death for the nation.

Definitions of Patterns of Drinking Alcohol
Excessive drinking includes heavy drinking, binge drinking and any drinking by pregnant women or underage youth.

  • Binge drinking, the most common form of excessive alcohol consumption, is defined as consuming:
    • For women, four or more drinks during a single occasion.
    • For men, five or more drinks during a single occasion.
  • Heavy drinking is defined as consuming:
    • For women, more than one drink per day on average
    • For men, more than two drinks per day on average

Most people who binge drink are not alcoholics or alcohol dependent

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, if you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation, which is defined as no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men. 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)
  • Risky sexual behaviors, including unprotected sex, sex with multiple partners and increased risk of sexual assault
  • 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
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