Excessive alcohol use can lead to various health problems, financial burdens, life problems, and even death. But how much alcohol is too much? The Centers for Disease Control report that 88,000 Americans die each year from excessive alcohol use, losing an average of 30 years of their lives. Many more of us face lesser consequences. Many of the people facing these problems don’t even realize that their alcohol use is excessive.
How much alcohol is too much alcohol?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define four kinds of excessive alcohol use:
- Binge drinking… Binge drinking means four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men during a period of two to three hours.
- Underage drinking…Underage drinking is alcohol consumption by anyone under the age of 21.
- Pregnant drinking… Any alcohol use by pregnant women is considered pregnant drinking.
- Heavy drinking… Heavy drinking means eight or more drinks for women and 15 or more drinks for men per week.
What are the negative health effects of drinking alcohol in excess?
Excessive alcohol use isn’t a harmless habit. It can lead to health problems, financial costs, and various other risks:
- Underage drinking, binge drinking, pregnant drinking, and heavy drinking result in 88,000 deaths per year. This includes death from alcohol poisoning and accidental death.
- Excessive use of alcohol cost the U.S. economy $249 billion in 2010. This includes medical bills and healthcare expenses, vehicle collisions, losses in workplace productivity, and criminal justice costs.
- Drinking in excess promotes risky behavior. It can lead to unintended pregnancy, injuries, violence, and abuse.
- Pregnant drinking can cause fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, miscarriage, and stillbirth.
There are numerous long-term health risks associated with drinking drinking alcohol in excess:
- alcohol dependence
- heart disease
- liver disease
- high blood pressure
- digestive problems
- colorectal cancer
- mouth, throat, and esophageal cancer
- breast cancer
- liver cancer
- cognitive problems
- depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems
Know when to talk to a doctor.
Almost 90% of excessive drinkers are not alcohol dependent, according to the CDC. It’s important to understand the risks involved in excessive alcohol use. If you choose to drink, drink in moderation. Moderate alcohol use means one drink for women and two drinks for men per day. It’s not recommended to take up drinking based on potential health benefits.
It’s not always a simple matter of choosing not to drink, however. Alcohol dependency is a serious problem. Your primary care provider can help. Talk to your doctor about the next steps.