Photo: Keoni Cabral
We all know drinking small amounts of alcohol in moderation is safer than binge drinking or drinking large amounts in a short period of time.
Most people also know you can legally drive in the U.S. with a blood alcohol content (BAC) less than 0.08 if you’re 21 or older. That’s about four drinks for a 180-pound man and about three drinks for a 140-pound woman, according to studies.
There’s also a general belief that there are health benefits to drinking some types of alcohol, like wine, in small amounts. Alcohol and antioxidants in wine might help prevent heart disease, according to the Mayo Clinic.
But why just one glass? Why is 0.08 the magic number for a DUI? Because excessive drinking can lead to devastating consequences.
In the short term, excessive alcohol consumption reduces reaction time and decreases judgment. The result is an increased risk of auto accidents and other dangers. It can also cause dramatic losses in body heat, loss of consciousness and death from alcohol poisoning. Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include vomiting, seizures, slowed breathing and blue or pale skin, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The long term consequences of one binge drinking episode include increased risks of cancer and liver diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to the AHA, drinking in excess can cause several medical consequences, including increased risk of high blood pressure, obesity and stroke. It also increases the risk of alcohol abuse and alcoholism.
Alcohol abuse refers to drinking patterns that negatively affects a person’s health, relationships or ability to work. Alcoholism, or alcohol addiction, is a disease in which someone is physically dependent on alcohol, according to the CDC.
Drinking in moderation can be difficult, though, because most people aren’t aware of the factors that contribute to a person’s BAC or tolerance to alcohol. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all equation. Age, gender, ethnicity, weight, food consumption, family history and the amount of time between drinks all contribute to our body’s responses to alcohol.
National recommendations can be confusing because many recommend different levels of alcohol intake. According to different national organizations, drinking in moderation means:
- Men can consume two drinks per day, and women can consumer one per day. (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services)
- Men can consume four drinks per day or 14 in one week, and women can consume three drinks per day or seven in one week. (National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism)
- Men can consume one to two drinks per day, and women can consume only one drink per day. (American Heart Association)
People who drink alcohol in excess are also more likely to encounter problems like:
- Accidents including car crashes, falls, burns, drowning and injuries from firearms.
- Violence including homicide, suicide and child abuse.
- Diseases like pancreatitis, cirrhosis, psychological disorders and cancers.
Unfortunately, alcohol consumption has become a part of many cultures. Young people often feel pressured to drink in high school, and college is often associated with partying and binge drinking. There’s a reason why the legal drinking age in the U.S. is 21.
Multiple studies show an increase in injuries — including deadly injuries — in youth who drink. Studies also indicate people who drink before age 15 are six times as likely to become alcohol dependent than those who begin drinking at age 21, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Youth who drink are also more likely to participate in high-risk sexual behavior, perform poorly in school and increase their risk for suicide and homicide, according to the CDC.
To be safe, avoid drinking alcohol in excess or, if possible, drinking alcohol altogether. Drinking isn’t all fun and games. The side effects can be deadly, and the risks aren’t worth the rewards.
By Chris Elkins
Chris Elkins is a writer and researcher for DrugRehab.com. He has five years of professional writing experience and has been covering health-related topics for more than one year. He has a master’s degree in strategic communication and leadership with a certificate in health communication leadership.
Learn how to give up alcohol or how to moderate your drinking in the privacy of your own home without going to groups or expensive counseling with the How To Give Up Alcohol Course.