There are approximately 80,000 deaths caused by excessive alcohol use each year in the United States. This makes excessive alcohol use the 3rd leading lifestyle-related cause of death in the nation. Excessive alcohol use is responsible for:
- 2.3 million years of potential life lost (YPLL) annually, or an average of about 30 years of potential life lost for each death.
- More than 1.2 million emergency room visits and 2.7 million physician office visits
What is a Standard Drink?
In the United States, a standard drink is any drink that contains 0.6 ounces (14.0 grams or 1.2 tablespoons) of pure alcohol. Generally, this amount is found in:
- 12-ounces of regular beer or wine cooler
- 8-ounces of malt liquor
- 5-ounces of wine
- 1.5-ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits or liquor (e.g., gin, rum, vodka, whiskey)
What is Excessive Drinking?
Excessive drinking includes heavy drinking, binge drinking and any drinking by pregnant women or underage youth.
- Binge drinking - consuming 4 or more drinks during a single occasion (women) or 5 or more drinks during a single occasion (men)
- Heavy drinking is defined as consuming more than 1 drink per day on average (women) or more than 2 drinks per day on average (men).
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.
Immediate Health Risks of Excessive Alcohol Use
- Accidental injuries such as traffic injuries, falls, burns, and unintentional firearm injuries.
- Accidental drowning
- Violence, including violence to intimate partners and children. 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. These behaviors can result in unintended pregna
- ncy 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, which is a medical emergency that results from high blood alcohol levels. Alcohol poisoning 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 chronic diseases and other problems, such as:
- 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.
- Liver diseases, including alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis.
- Persons with the Hepatitis C virus may experience worsening of liver function and interference with medications.
- Other gastrointestinal problems, including pancreatitis and gastritis.
Source: Centers for Disease Control Fact Sheets - Alcohol Use and Health
Who Should Not Drink Alcohol?
- Women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant.
- Individuals taking prescription or over-the-counter medications that may cause harmful reactions when mixed with alcohol.
- Those younger than age 21.
- People recovering from alcoholism or who are unable to control the amount they drink.
- Individuals suffering from a medical condition that may be worsened by alcohol.
- Those driving, planning to drive, or participating in other activities requiring skill, coordination, and alertness.
How Can You Tell if Someone May Be Drinking Too Much?
These signs and symptoms might help identify someone who is abusing alcohol.
- Repeatedly Neglecting Responsibilities: This could be neglecting responsibilities at home, work, or school. For example, neglecting the children, performing poorly at work, poor or failing grades in school, or skipping out on work, school, personal or social commitments because the person is intoxicated or suffering from the effects of a hangover.
- Alcohol Use in Dangerous Situations: The use of alcohol in situations where it can be physically dangerous, such as drinking and driving, drinking in a bad neighborhood, mixing alcohol with prescription medication against the advice of your doctor or operating machinery while drinking.
- Legal Problems Due to Drinking: Drinking too much can lead to repeated legal problems, such as getting arrested for fights, drunk and disorderly conduct, domestic disputes or driving under the influence.
- Continued Drinking Despite Relationship Problems: Alcohol overuse can cause problems or make problems worse in your relationships with your friends, family or spouse. For example, fighting with your family because they don’t like how you act when you drink or going out and drinking with your buddies even though you know your wife will be very upset.
- Drinking to De-Stress: Many drinking problems start when people use alcohol to relieve stress. Because alcohol is a sedative drug, over time, you will need more alcohol to have the same effect. Getting drunk after a very stressful day more often, for example, or reaching for a bottle after you have an argument with boss, a friend or your spouse more frequently.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)