Alcohol Addiction and Alcoholism
What You Don't Know
Can Definitely Hurt
Alcohol - Moderate Use - 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 should 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 some research indicates that this moderate intake of alcohol may help to prevent certain forms of heart
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?
What Is a Drink?
A standard alcohol drink
*Beer ranges considerably in its
- One 12-ounce bottle of beer*
or wine cooler
- One 5-ounce glass of wine
- 1.5 ounces of 80-proof
with malt liquor being higher in its
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.
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
more heavily you drink, the greater the potential for problems at home, at
work, with friends, and even with strangers. These problems may include:
Alcohol-Related Birth Defects
- Arguments with or estrangement from your spouse and
other family members;
- Strained relationships with coworkers;
- Absence from or lateness to work with increasing
- 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 to not drink any
alcohol during pregnancy.
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 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 of stroke.
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.
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