Excessive alcohol use is responsible for about 88,000 deaths a year in the United States, including 1 in 10 total deaths among working-age adults aged 20 to 64 years. In 2010, excessive alcohol use cost the US economy $249 billion, or $2.05 a drink. About 40% of these costs were paid by federal, state, and local governments.
Excessive alcohol use includes binge drinking, heavy drinking, and any alcohol use by pregnant women or anyone younger than 21. Binge drinking is defined as consuming 4 or more drinks on an occasion for a woman or 5 or more drinks on an occasion for a man. Heavy drinking is defined as consuming 8 or more drinks per week for a woman or 15 or more drinks per week for a man.
Binge drinking is responsible for over half the deaths and three-quarters of the costs due to excessive alcohol use. CDC estimates that 37 million US adults—or 1 in 6—binge drink about once a week, consuming an average of 7 drinks per binge. As a result, US adults consume about 17 billion binge drinks annually, or about 470 binge drinks per binge drinker. Further, 9 in 10 adults who binge drink do not have an alcohol use disorder.
The Health Effects of Excessive Alcohol Use
Chronic Health Effects
Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases and other serious problems, including alcohol use disorder and problems with learning, memory, and mental health. Chronic health conditions that have been linked to excessive alcohol use include:
High Blood Pressure, Heart Disease, and Stroke
Binge drinking and heavy drinking can cause heart disease, including cardiomyopathy (disease of the heart muscle), as well as irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, and stroke.
Excessive alcohol use takes a toll on the liver and can lead to fatty liver disease (steatosis), hepatitis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis.
Excessive alcohol use can contribute to cancers of the mouth and throat, larynx (voice box), esophagus, colon and rectum, liver, and breast (in women). The less alcohol a person drinks, the lower the risk of cancer.
Immediate Health Effects
Excessive alcohol use has immediate effects that increase the risk of many harmful health conditions, including the following:
Injuries, Violence, and Poisonings
Drinking too much alcohol increases the risk of injuries, including motor vehicle crashes, falls, drownings, and burns. It also increases the risk of violence, including homicide, suicide, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence. Alcohol also contributes to poisonings and overdoses from opioids and other substances.
Unintended Pregnancy and Sexually Transmitted Infections
People who binge drink are more likely to have unprotected sex and multiple sex partners. These activities increase the risk of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
Poor Pregnancy Outcomes
There is no known safe amount of alcohol use during pregnancy. Alcohol use during pregnancy can cause fetal alcohol spectrum disorders for infants. It may also increase the risk of miscarriage, premature birth, stillbirth, and sudden infant death syndrome.