Alcohol, Some Sobering Facts
If you are like many people, 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 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 can help to prevent certain forms of heart disease.
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?
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. 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
For information about your medications, please visit the Medications Center.
The more heavily you drink, the greater the potential for problems at home,
at work, with friends, and even with strangers. These problems may include:
- Arguments with or estrangement from your spouse and other family members;
- Strained relationships with coworkers;
- Absence from or lateness to work with increasing frequency;
- Loss of employment due to decreased productivity; and
- Committing or being the victim of violence.
Alcohol Related Birth Defects
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 not to drink any alcohol during this time. For more information about
FAS, please red our Fetal Alcohol Syndrome article.
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.