Reaching back through history and pre-history, humans have been creating alcohol-based beverages for private and public consumption. Indeed, recent archaeo-botantical and archaeo-chemical discoveries point to the intentional fermentation of beverages as far back as the late Paleolithic Era (approximately 10,000 b.c.e). However, a complete understanding of the effects of alcohol on the human body is continuing to evolve.
According to recent information provided by the National Institute of Health, more than 100,000 people die each year from conditions attributable to alcohol, and it is third on the list of preventable causes of death. However, this only scratches the surface of problems associated with alcohol consumption as it contributes to physical and mental diseases and illnesses that evolve and linger over time, creating problems not only for those afflicted, but also for family, friends, businesses, and the economy.
Alcohol and Public Perception
Drinking alcoholic beverages, despite various movements through the years, is deeply embedded in human culture, and consumption is openly encouraged. But not all of this is bad; in fact, there is strong medical evidence indicating that “light” or “low risk” drinking is beneficial to the body. Unfortunately, there are two problems with this: one is understanding what constitutes “low risk”; the other is that alcohol effects and interacts differently with each individual. So what may not be a problem for one person may be damaging for another.
Recommended Maximum Alcohol Consumption
- For men: A maximum of 2 drinks per day but no more than 7.2 ounces of alcohol per week
- For women: A maximum of 1 drink per day but no more than 4.2 ounces per week
These quantities do not indicate when someone is considered intoxicated, and that must be considered before driving, operating machinery, or engaging in other activities that threaten personal or public safety. Age, body weight, and other factors can have an impact on these figures.
Once these numbers are exceeded, the health risks from alcohol increase dramatically – and severely. To lend some perspective, what constitutes a “drink” is any beverage containing .6 ounces of alcohol (roughly one beer; five ounces of wine; 1.5 ounces of hard liquor).
Low-risk versus excessive drinking
While both low-risk and excessive drinking have a statistical component, there is an inherent problem in using the numbers as an absolute quantity because each person reacts to alcohol differently; the statistical measures, therefore, are merely guidelines, not dogma. So, while excessive or binge drinking (defined as having five or more drinks at a single event in the last thirty days) may be measurable, that does not mean those numbers are the starting point for each person. For some, the effects of excessive or binge drinking may begin with the second drink.
Alcohol and Health
Here are some sobering facts about excessive drinking over both the short and long term:
- 10% of all premature deaths in the United States are directly attributable to alcohol.
- Alcohol impairs cognitive skills, coordination, and communication pathways in the brain. Long term use has been linked to dementia, depression, and suicide.
- Excessive consumption or alcohol (whether at a single event or regularly over a long period) can cause heart problems including arrhythmia, cardiomyopathy, high blood pressure (the leading cause of death) and stroke.
- Alcohol directly affects the liver, causing inflammation, cirrhosis, hepatitis, and fibrosis.
- Alcohol can cause pancreatitis, a serious condition in which the pancreas inflames, swelling blood vessels and interfering with digestion.
- Excessive alcohol consumption can cause cancer of the mouth, lips, tongue, breast, liver, and esophagus.
- Drinking alcohol while pregnant can harm the developing fetus, leading directly to birth defects and brain damage.
- Drinking to excess weakens the body’s immune system, making it more susceptible to chronic or serious illnesses and diseases than those who drink lightly or moderately, or not at all.
- More than 35% of the victims of abuse report their attacker was under the influence of alcohol.
- Almost 20 million people suffer from Alcohol Use Disorders (AUD), and that number is growing.
- Close to a million young adults (ages 18 – 24) have been assaulted either physically or sexually because of factors directly related to alcohol consumption.
- The younger an individual begins drinking, the greater the chances of that person developing alcohol dependency or addiction.
- Alcohol problems have a negative effect on the economy in terms of healthcare costs, diminished productivity, unemployment, and property damage amounting to more than $200 million dollars each year.
The most effective method of combatting alcohol related problems and alcohol addiction is learning as much as possible about its effects on both the individual and society. For those who drink, regular monitoring of intake and the effects of their drinking patterns on their health and behavior is the best way to reduce the chances that problems will develop.
For those that are suffering from alcohol addiction, alcohol abuse treatments are available. Additionally, medications are now available that help with withdrawal and addiction to alcohol and other drugs. For more information about substance abuse treatments and medications visit our Addiction/Substance Abuse Condition page.