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
*Beer ranges considerably in its alcohol content,
with malt liquor being higher in its alcohol content than most other brewed beverages.
|One 12-ounce bottle of beer*or wine cooler
|One 5-ounce glass of wine
|1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.
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.
Interactions With Medications
Alcohol interacts 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 with coworkers; |
|Absence from or lateness to work with increasing frequency;
|Loss of employment due to decreased productivity; and
|Committing or being the victim of violence.
Alcohol-Related Birth Defects
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.
Long-Term Health Problems
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.
Alcohol-related 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
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 of stroke.
Cancer. 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.
Pancreatitis. 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:
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 alcoholics.
|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
|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
Source: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse
and Alcoholism, National Institutes of Health, NIH Publication No. 99-4323, Printed 1999