Why Alcohol Misuse Is Dangerous

Drinking alcohol in excess is a risky behavior that can have lasting effects on your health.

Every 2 minutes someone dies because of alcohol. In fact, excessive drinking is the third-leading lifestyle-related cause of death in the U.S. Drinking alcohol is linked to more than 60 health issues.

When you drink in excess, the effects of alcohol aren't limited to just you. Your drinking can also hurt someone else. Half of all alcohol-related deaths are due to unintentional injuries, such as from car accidents, for example.

Excessive drinking defined
Heavy drinking and binge drinking fall under the category of "excessive drinking."

  • Heavy drinking:
    • More than one drink per day on average for women.
    • More than two drinks each day on average for men.
  • Binge drinking:
    • More than four drinks during one time (generally in a two-hour period) for women.
    • More than five drinks during one occasion for men.

One drink is considered:

  • 12 oz. of beer or a wine cooler
  • 5 oz. of wine
  • 1.5 oz. of distilled liquor (for example, vodka, rum or whiskey)

A personal problem: how alcohol misuse hurts you
When you drink alcohol, it's quickly absorbed from the stomach and small intestine and into the bloodstream. The liver can only break down (metabolize) a small amount of alcohol at a time. The rest of the alcohol lingers in the bloodstream and causes you to "feel drunk." This harms the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord), which is dangerous because the central nervous system controls all functions of the body. The more alcohol you drink at once, the greater the damage.

The immediate effects of alcohol may include:

  • Impaired judgment and inability to measure risks
  • Lowered inhibitions
  • Slower reaction time and reflexes
  • Loss of coordination and balance
  • Distorted vision
  • Lapses in memory

Drinking too much alcohol over time can cause a slew of lasting health problems, such as:

  • Chronic liver disease
  • Cancer
  • Heart disease and stroke
  • Mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety
  • Alcohol addiction
  • Medical problems in unborn babies if any amount of alcohol is consumed during pregnancy.
  • Alcohol poisoning, which can be deadly. This can happen when you drink too much at once

Alcohol misuse can also impact other areas of your life. It's linked with:

  • Domestic abuse and other violent behaviors
  • Relationship issues
  • Risky sexual behaviors
  • Financial problems
  • Being unproductive at work
  • Accidents

A public health problem: how alcohol misuse hurts others
Excessive alcohol use hurts us all. It reaches into every aspect of society and has an economic impact as well. Look at the facts:

  • One-fifth to one half of all car accident deaths are due to alcohol.
  • Of people admitted to hospitals (not counting those in maternity or intensive care units), 25 percent to 40 percent are being treated for alcohol-related issues.
  • Alcohol problems cost the U.S. about 185 billion dollars per year. Health care expenses for alcohol-related illness and injury cost 22.5 billion dollars each year.
  • Underage drinking is a huge public health problem:
  • Alcohol is a leading cause of death and injury in teens from car accidents, fires, drownings, homicides and suicides.
    • When teens drink, nine out of 10 times they are binge drinking.
    • One in four teens admits to binge drinking.
    • Three in 10 teens admit to riding in a vehicle with a driver who has been drinking.

Be responsible
If you are 21 years of age or older and choose to drink, do so in moderation. Women should only have one drink per day, and men should limit alcohol to two drinks each day. It is not safe to drink any amount of alcohol during pregnancy.

Never drink alcohol before or while driving, or when participating in any other activities that require skill or concentration