It should be a surprise to no one that drinking too much alcohol can be bad for you — of course, the definition of “too much” can vary.
Excessive and uncontrolled consumption of alcohol can lead to dependence and abuse. People who are addicted to alcoholic drinks suffer from health, social, professional, and financial problems.
If you have a little too much alcohol once in a while, it probably won’t do lasting damage if you’re otherwise healthy. But it’s a different story if you regularly drink heavily.
Too much alcohol can harm you physically and mentally in lots of ways.
Here are some of the more common negative health consequences of excessive alcohol consumption — and good reasons to moderate your intake of alcohol:
Liver disease and life-threatening liver failure requiring a liver transplant.
Alcohol is a toxin, and it’s your liver’s job to flush it out of your body. But your liver may not be able to keep up if you drink too much too fast. Alcohol can kill liver cells, and lead to scarring called cirrhosis. Long-term heavy use of alcohol also may give you alcoholic fatty liver disease, a sign that your liver doesn’t work as well as it should.
You may know about the dangers of blood clots and high levels of fats and cholesterol in your body. Alcohol makes both things more likely. Studies of heavy drinkers also show that they are more likely to have trouble pumping blood to their heart and may have a higher chance of dying from heart disease.
Brain and Nervous System Problems
Alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways, and can affect the way the brain looks and works. These disruptions can change mood and behavior, and make it harder to think clearly and move with coordination.
This is when your body doesn’t make enough healthy red blood cells to move oxygen around. That may give you ulcers, inflammation, and other problems. Too much booze may also make you more likely to skip meals, which can short-change your body of iron.
There is a clear link between heavy alcohol use and many types of cancers. Alcohol can damage the cells in your mouth, throat, voice box, and esophagus. It can lead to cancers in your liver, breast, and intestines. Alcohol can help cancer-causing chemicals in tobacco and other sources enter your cells more easily.
This form of arthritis results from painful buildup of uric acid in the joints. You can get gout from eating too much food high in chemicals called purines, which include red meat, shellfish, and alcohol — especially beer and liquor.
Drinking too much can weaken your immune system, making your body a much easier target for disease. Heavy drinking can hamper your immune cells from fighting off viruses and bacteria.
Chronic drinkers are more liable to contract diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis than people who do not drink too much. Drinking a lot on a single occasion slows your body’s ability to ward off infections – even up to 24 hours after getting drunk.
How much alcohol consumption is too much?
The answer has varied over time, but a widely accepted definition of moderate alcohol consumption — as endorsed by the US Department of Health and Human Services and the US Department of Agriculture — is one drink or less per day for women or two drinks or less per day for men. The lower recommendation for women isn’t just because they are, on average, smaller than men. It turns out alcohol affects women differently. They produce less of the enzyme (called alcohol dehydrogenase, or ADH) that breaks down alcohol. In addition, women tend to have more body fat, which tends to retain alcohol.
The definitions for “a drink” in the US are the common serving sizes for beer (12 ounces), wine (5 ounces), or hard liquor (1.5 ounces).
Meanwhile, “high risk” drinking is considered:
– Four or more drinks in one day or eight or more drinks per week for women.
– Five or more drinks in one day or 15 or more drinks per week for men.
– Binge drinking is defined as four or more drinks over two hours for women and five or more drinks over two hours for men.