|If you are like many Americans, you may drink alcohol
occasionally. Or, like others, you may drink moderate amounts of alcohol on a more regular
basis. If you are a woman or someone over the age of 65, this means that you have no more
than one drink per day; if you are a man, this means that you have no more than two drinks
per day. Drinking at these levels usually is not associated with health risks and can help
to prevent certain forms of heart disease.
But did you know that even moderate drinking, under certain
circumstances, is not risk free? And that if you drink at more than moderate levels, you
may be putting yourself at risk for serious problems with your health and problems with
family, friends, and coworkers? This booklet explains some of the consequences of drinking
that you may not have considered.
Is a Drink
A standard drink is:
- One 12-ounce bottle of
or wine cooler
- One 5-ounce glass of
- 1.5 ounces of 80-proof
considerably in its alcohol content,
with malt liquor being higher in its alcohol content
than most other brewed beverages.
Drinking and Driving
It may surprise you to
learn that you don't need to drink much alcohol before your ability to drive becomes
impaired. For example, certain driving skills--such as steering a car while, at the same
time, responding to changes in traffic--can be impaired by blood alcohol concentrations
(BACs) as low as 0.02 percent. (The BAC refers to the amount of alcohol in the blood.) A
160-pound man will have a BAC of about 0.04 percent 1 hour after consuming two 12-ounce
beers or two other standard drinks on an empty stomach (see the box, "What Is a
Drink?"). And the more alcohol you consume, the more impaired your driving skills
will be. Although most States set the BAC limit for adults who drive after drinking at
0.08 to 0.10 percent, impairment of driving skills begins at much lower levels.
negatively with more than 150 medications. For example, if you are taking antihistamines
for a cold or allergy and drink alcohol, the alcohol will increase the drowsiness that the
medication alone can cause, making driving or operating machinery even more hazardous. And
if you are taking large doses of the painkiller acetaminophen and drinking alcohol, you
are risking serious liver damage. Check with your doctor or pharmacist before drinking any
amount of alcohol if you are taking any over-the-counter or prescription medications.
The more heavily you
drink, the greater the potential for problems at home, at work, with friends, and even
with strangers. These problems may include:
- Arguments with or
estrangement from your spouse and other family members;
- Strained relationships
- Absence from or
lateness to work with increasing frequency;
- Loss of employment due
to decreased productivity; and
- Committing or being the
victim of violence.
If you are a pregnant
woman or one who is trying to conceive, you can prevent alcohol-related birth defects by
not drinking alcohol during your pregnancy. Alcohol can cause a range of birth defects,
the most serious being fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Children born with alcohol-related
birth defects can have lifelong learning and behavior problems. Those born with FAS have
physical abnormalities, mental impairment, and behavior problems. Because scientists do
not know exactly how much alcohol it takes to cause alcohol-related birth defects, it is
best not to drink any alcohol during this time.
Some problems, like
those mentioned above, can occur after drinking over a relatively short period of time.
But other problems--such as liver disease, heart disease, certain forms of cancer, and
pancreatitis--often develop more gradually and may become evident only after long-term
heavy drinking. Women may develop alcohol-related health problems after consuming less
alcohol than men do over a shorter period of time. Because alcohol affects many organs in
the body, long-term heavy drinking puts you at risk for developing serious health
problems, some of which are described below.
liver disease. More than 2 million Americans suffer from alcohol-related liver
disease. Some drinkers develop alcoholic hepatitis, or inflammation of the liver, as a
result of long-term heavy drinking. Its symptoms include fever, jaundice (abnormal
yellowing of the skin, eyeballs, and urine), and abdominal pain. Alcoholic hepatitis can
cause death if drinking continues. If drinking stops, this condition often is reversible.
About 10 to 20 percent of heavy drinkers develop alcoholic cirrhosis, or scarring of the
liver. Alcoholic cirrhosis can cause death if drinking continues. Although cirrhosis is
not reversible, if drinking stops, one's chances of survival improve considerably. Those
with cirrhosis often feel better, and the functioning of their liver may improve, if they
stop drinking. Although liver transplantation may be needed as a last resort, many people
with cirrhosis who abstain from alcohol may never need liver transplantation. In addition,
treatment for the complications of cirrhosis is available.
Heart disease. Moderate
drinking can have beneficial effects on the heart, especially among those at greatest risk
for heart attacks, such as men over the age of 45 and women after menopause. But long-term
heavy drinking increases the risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, and some kinds
Long-term heavy drinking increases the risk of developing certain forms of cancer,
especially cancer of the esophagus, mouth, throat, and voice box. Women are at slightly
increased risk of developing breast cancer if they drink two or more drinks per day.
Drinking may also increase the risk for developing cancer of the colon and rectum.
The pancreas helps to regulate the body's blood sugar levels by producing insulin. The
pancreas also has a role in digesting the food we eat. Long-term heavy drinking can lead
to pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas. This condition is associated with severe
abdominal pain and weight loss and can be fatal.
If you or someone you
know has been drinking heavily, there is a risk of developing serious health problems.
Because some of these health problems are both reversible and treatable, it is important
to see your doctor for help. Your doctor will be able to advise you about both your health
and your drinking.
If you or someone you
know needs help or more information, contact:
- Al-Anon Family Group
1600 Corporate Landing Parkway
Virginia Beach, VA 23454-5617
Internet address: http://www.al-anon.alateen.org
Makes referrals to local Al-Anon
groups, which are support groups for spouses and other significant adults in an alcoholic
person's life. Also makes referrals to Alateen groups, which offer support to children of
- Locations of Al-Anon or
Alateen meetings worldwide can be obtained by calling 1-888-4AL-ANON Monday through
Friday, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. (e.s.t.).
- Free informational
materials can be obtained by calling the toll-free numbers (operating 7 days per week, 24
hours per day):
- U.S.: (800) 356-9996
- Canada: (800) 714-7498
- Alcoholics Anonymous
(AA) World Services
475 Riverside Drive, 11th Floor
New York, NY 10115
Internet address: http://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org
Makes referrals to local AA groups
and provides informational materials on the AA program. Many cities and towns also have a
local AA office listed in the telephone book.
- National Council on
Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD)
12 West 21st Street
New York, NY 10010
Internet address: http://www.ncadd.org
Provides telephone numbers of local NCADD affiliates (who
can provide information on local treatment resources) and educational materials on
alcoholism via the above toll-free number.
- National Institute
on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
Scientific Communications Branch
6000 Executive Boulevard, Suite 409
Bethesda, MD 20892-7003
Internet address: http://www.niaaa.nih.gov
chemical dependency and its toxic impact on family members. Raise your
children to choose to be alcohol and other drugs
free. Learn how
to in Dr. Frischs, Psy.D. Recovery book seriesFrom Insanity to Serenity.