Fact Sheets - Alcohol Use and Your Health
Drinking too much can harm your health. Excessive alcohol use led to approximately 88,000 deaths and 2.5 million years of potential life lost (YPLL) each year in the United States from 2006 – 2010, shortening the lives of those who died by an average of 30 years.1,2 Further, excessive drinking was responsible for 1 in 10 deaths among working-age adults aged 20-64 years. The economic costs of excessive alcohol consumption in 2010 were estimated at $249 billion, or $2.05 a drink.3
What is a "drink"?
In the United States, a standard drink contains 0.6 ounces (14.0 grams or 1.2 tablespoons) of pure alcohol. Generally, this amount of pure alcohol is found in
- 12-ounces of beer (5% alcohol content).
- 8-ounces of malt liquor (7% alcohol content).
- 5-ounces of wine (12% alcohol content).
- 1.5-ounces of 80-proof (40% alcohol content) distilled spirits or liquor (e.g., gin, rum, vodka, whiskey).4
What is excessive drinking?
Excessive drinking includes binge drinking, heavy drinking, and any drinking by pregnant women or people younger than age 21.
- Binge drinking, the most common form of excessive drinking, is defined as consuming
- For women, 4 or more drinks during a single occasion.
- For men, 5 or more drinks during a single occasion.
- Heavy drinking is defined as consuming
- For women, 8 or more drinks per week.
- For men, 15 or more drinks per week.
Most people who drink excessively are not alcoholics or alcohol dependent.5
What is moderate drinking?
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.4 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.
In addition, no one should start drinking or drink more based on potential health benefits.4 By adhering to the Dietary Guidelines, you can reduce the risk of harm to yourself or others.
Short-Term Health Risks
Excessive alcohol use has immediate effects that increase the risk of many harmful health conditions. These are most often the result of binge drinking and include the following:
- Injuries, such as motor vehicle crashes, falls, drownings, and burns.6,7
- Violence, including homicide, suicide, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence.6-10
- Alcohol poisoning, a medical emergency that results from high blood alcohol levels.11
- Risky sexual behaviors, including unprotected sex or sex with multiple partners. These behaviors can result in unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.12,13
- Miscarriage and stillbirth or fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) among pregnant women.6,12,14,15
Long-Term Health Risks
Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases and other serious problems including:
- High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive problems.6,16-21
- Cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon.6,22
- Learning and memory problems, including dementia and poor school performance.6
- Mental health problems, including depression and anxiety.6,23
- Social problems, including lost productivity, family problems, and unemployment.6,24,25
- Alcohol dependence, or alcoholism.6
By not drinking too much, you can reduce the risk of these short- and long-term health risks.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Alcohol-Related Disease Impact (ARDI). Atlanta, GA: CDC.
- Stahre M, Roeber J, Kanny D, Brewer RD, Zhang X. Contribution of excessive alcohol consumption to deaths and years of potential life lost in the United States. Prev Chronic Dis 2014;11:130293.
- Sacks JJ, Gonzales KR, Bouchery EE, Tomedi LE, Brewer RD. 2010 National and State Costs of Excessive Alcohol Consumption. Am J Prev Med 2015; 49(5):e73–e79.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 [PDF-2.89MB]. 7th Edition, Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office; 2010.
- Esser MB, Hedden SL, Kanny D, Brewer RD, Gfroerer JC, Naimi TS. Prevalence of Alcohol Dependence Among US Adult Drinkers, 2009–2011. Prev Chronic Dis 2014;11:140329.
- National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Tenth special report to the U.S. Congress on alcohol and health [PDF - 2.8MB]. Bethesda, MD: National Institute of Health; 2000.
- Smith GS, Branas CC, Miller TR. Fatal nontraffic injuries involving alcohol: a metaanalysis. Ann of Emer Med 1999;33(6):659–668.
- Greenfield LA. Alcohol and Crime: An Analysis of National Data on the Prevalence of Alcohol Involvement in Crime [PDF - 229 KB]. Report prepared for the Assistant Attorney General’s National Symposium on Alcohol Abuse and Crime. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, 1998.
- Mohler-Kuo M, Dowdall GW, Koss M, Wechsler H. Correlates of rape while intoxicated in a national sample of college women. Journal of Studies on Alcohol 2004;65(1):37–45.
- Abbey A. Alcohol-related sexual assault: A common problem among college students. J Stud Alcohol Suppl 2002;14:118–128.
- Sanap M, Chapman MJ. Severe ethanol poisoning: a case report and brief review. Crit Care Resusc 2003;5(2):106–108.
- Naimi TS, Lipscomb LE, Brewer RD, Colley BG. Binge drinking in the preconception period and the risk of unintended pregnancy: Implications for women and their children. Pediatrics 2003;11(5):1136–1141.
- Wechsler H, Davenport A, Dowdall G, Moeykens B, Castillo S. Health and behavioral consequences of binge drinking in college. JAMA 1994;272(21):1672–1677.
- Kesmodel U, Wisborg K, Olsen SF, Henriksen TB, Sechler NJ. Moderate alcohol intake in pregnancy and the risk of spontaneous abortion. Alcohol & Alcoholism 2002;37(1):87–92.
- American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Substance Abuse and Committee on Children with Disabilities. 2000. Fetal alcohol syndrome and alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorders. Pediatrics 2000;106:358–361.
- Corrao G, Rubbiati L, Zambon A, Arico S. Alcohol-attributable and alcohol-preventable mortality in Italy. A balance in 1983 and 1996. European J of Public Health 2002;12:214–223.
- Corrao G, Bagnardi V, Zambon A, La Vecchia C. A meta-analysis of alcohol consumption and the risk of 15 diseases. Prev Med 2004;38:613–619.
- Rehm J, Gmel G, Sepos CT, Trevisan M. Alcohol-related morbidity and mortality. Alcohol Research and Health 2003;27(1)39–51.
- Schiff ER. Hepatitis C and alcohol. Hepatology 1997;26 (Suppl 1): 39S–42S.
- Lesher SDH, Lee YTM. Acute pancreatitis in a military hospital. Military Med 1989;154(11):559–564.
- Kelly JP, Kaufman DW, Koff RS, Laszlo A, Wilholm BE, Shapiro S. Alcohol consumption and the risk of major upper gastrointestinal bleeding. Am J Gastroenterol 1995;90(7):1058–1064.
- Baan R, Straif K, Grosse Y, Secretan B, et al. on behalf of the WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer Monograph Working Group. Carcinogenicity of alcoholic beverages. Lancet Oncol. 2007;8:292–293.
- Castaneda R, Sussman N, Westreich L, Levy R, O'Malley M. A review of the effects of moderate alcohol intake on the treatment of anxiety and mood disorders. J Clin Psychiatry 1996;57(5):207–212.
- Booth BM, Feng W. The impact of drinking and drinking consequences on short-term employment outcomes in at-risk drinkers in six southern states. J Behavioral Health Services and Research 2002;29(2):157–166.
- Leonard KE, Rothbard JC. Alcohol and the marriage effect. J Stud Alcohol Suppl 1999;13:139–146.
- Page last reviewed: January 13, 2016
- Page last updated: February 4, 2016
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