Are You Drinking Too Much? 5 Ways Alcohol Can Impact Your Health

April is National Alcohol Awareness Month. Sponsored by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), National Alcohol Awareness Month is dedicated to educating the public about alcohol use, the dangers of alcohol dependence, and how they can cut down on their drinking before it reaches harmful levels. 

Alcohol is one of the most commonly used substances worldwide and is relatively safe for most people when used in moderation. However, too much can be seriously detrimental to health.

According to the CDC, around 17% of American adults binge drink (defined as consuming 5 or more drinks on one occasion for men, and 4 drinks for women.) In addition, excessive drinking contributed to around 140,000 deaths from 2015-2019. 

How Much Is Too Much?

In addition to the definition of binge drinking outlined above, the CDC considers “heavy drinking” to be anything more than 8 drinks per week for women and 15 drinks for men. One drink could be: 

  • 12 ounces of 5% ABV beer
  • 8 ounces of 7% ABV malt liquor
  • 5 ounces of 12% ABV wine
  • 1.5 ounces of 40% ABV (80-proof) distilled spirits or liquor such as gin, rum, vodka, or whiskey

Pregnant people, those under 21, and people using certain medications that interact with alcohol should not consume it at all. Read on to learn about some of the ways that excess drinking can negatively impact your health. 

Alcohol Can Cause Liver Damage

One of the most well-known negative health effects of excessive alcohol consumption is liver damage. Your liver is responsible for filtering toxins from your body, including alcohol. This means that, when you drink too much alcohol, your liver has to work harder to filter it out of your system. 

Over time, this can lead to inflammation and scarring of the liver, which can eventually lead to liver failure.

Alcohol Can Raise Your Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

Excessive alcohol consumption can also contribute to cardiovascular (heart) disease. This is because alcohol raises your blood pressure. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is closely linked to cardiovascular disease. 

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, too much alcohol can also contribute to the development of a condition called cardiomyopathy, which affects the heart muscle. In addition, alcohol is high in calories and low in nutrients, meaning that too much can contribute to obesity–another risk factor for cardiovascular disease.  

Alcohol Can Raise Your Risk of Certain Cancers

Studies have shown that excessive alcohol consumption can raise your risk of developing certain cancers over your lifetime. These include mouth and throat cancers, esophageal cancer, colon cancer, liver cancer, and bowel cancer. 

According to the CDC, alcohol breaks down in your body into a chemical called acetaldehyde. This chemical damages your DNA and harms your body’s ability to repair the damage, which negatively impacts normal cell growth and function and can eventually lead to cancer. 

Alcohol Can Exacerbate Mental Health Issues

Many people use alcohol to relax at the end of a long day, and may even use it to self-medicate for mental health struggles such as anxiety and depression. However, while alcohol may provide temporary relief from symptoms of these conditions, it can actually make them worse in the long run. This is because alcohol is a depressant that can interfere with the brain's ability to regulate mood, exacerbating negative feelings such as sadness and hopelessness. 

Drinking too much alcohol can also lead to social isolation, relationship problems, and financial difficulties, all of which can contribute to feelings of depression. If you are using alcohol as a way to manage your mental health, seek support from a doctor or therapist to help you develop healthier coping strategies. 

Alcohol Can Lead to Injuries

Finally, drinking to excess increases your risk of sustaining a preventable injury. This is because alcohol impairs your motor skills and judgment, making you more likely to engage in risky behaviors and more likely to have an accident. 

It goes without saying that you must never drive, operate heavy machinery, or otherwise undertake dangerous tasks while under the influence of alcohol. 

What To Do If You Think You May Be Drinking Too Much

Many people can use alcohol in moderation throughout their lives without experiencing any negative health outcomes. However, if you think you may be drinking too much, it’s important to get it under control as quickly as possible. 

Aim to have at least a few alcohol-free days each week and, when you do drink, alternate alcoholic drinks with soft drinks or water. Know your own limits, never consume more alcohol than the maximum safe amounts recommended by the CDC, and take factors such as your age, weight, gender, and overall health status into account when deciding how much and how often to drink. 

If you feel that your drinking is out of control or that you cannot stop or moderate how much you drink, speak to your healthcare provider immediately.

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