Alcohol use is prevalent in the U.S. In fact, according to a 2015 survey by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 86.4 percent of people age 18 and older had consumed alcohol at some point in their life.
Unfortunately, alcohol misuse is common as well. In the same survey, 26.9 percent of people age 18 or older reported that they had engaged in binge drinking (see definition below) in the past month. Alcohol abuse, whether it is short-term or long-term misuse, can cause significant harm to the body.
Understanding Alcohol Use and Alcohol Abuse
Certain terms are important to understand in the discussion of alcohol use and abuse. In particular, in the U.S., a “drink” is considered to be 12 ounces of beer (5% alcohol content), five ounces of wine (12% alcohol) or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof (40% alcohol) liquor such as gin, rum, vodka or whiskey.
Binge drinking is defined as consuming five or more drinks on a single occasion for women, or five or more drinks on a single occasion for men. Heavy drinking is considered to be eight or more drinks per week for women or 15 or more drinks per week for men.
Alcohol Abuse: Short-Term Health Concerns
Short-term alcohol abuse can increase the risk of a number of health and behavioral issues that not only impact the drinker, but may affect others as well. They include:
- Motor vehicle crashes
- Injuries from falls, cuts, burns etc.
- Alcohol poisoning — a blood alcohol level so high it becomes a medical emergency
- Committing or being the victim of violence such as sexual assault, homicide or suicide
- Risky sexual behaviors such as unprotected sex or sex with multiple partners that can result in unintended pregnancy or the transmission of sexual diseases
- Stillbirth, miscarriage and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) among pregnant women
Alcohol Abuse: Long-Term Health Concerns
Regular excessive alcohol consumption that continues for years can lead to a number of chronic diseases and other issues, including:
- High blood pressure, heart disease and stroke,
- Digestive problems
- Liver disease
- Memory and learning problems, including dementia
- Depression, anxiety and other mental health problems
- Relationship and social problems, including marital and family issues, and unemployment
- Alcohol dependence
Abstinence or Moderation Can Help Protect Your Health
By observing total abstinence, or consuming alcohol in moderation, you can avoid the short- and long-term health issues that frequently result from alcohol misuse. If you believe you may have an alcohol dependence, your doctor can provide information on assessment and treatment options.