Many studies have touted the heart health benefit from drinking
one glass of red wine a day, but too much alcohol can negatively impact your
health, and even cause death.
intake is defined as one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for
men, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One drink is
equivalent to one 12-ounce beer, one 5-ounce glass of wine or 1.5 ounces of
liquor. Drinking more than what is recommended by the federal government’s American
Dietary Guidelines can have serious consequences on health in many obvious and not-so-obvious
A factor to consider is not what you drink, but why you
“If you have a drink to cope, whether it’s one or three
drinks a day, or go to great lengths to find a drink, you are alcohol dependent,”
said Dr. Greg Clary, a psychiatrist at Novant Health Psychiatric Associates in
Charlotte, North Carolina.
Beyond major health problems like cirrhosis of the liver and
injuries resulting from car crashes while driving under the influence of alcohol,
chronic alcohol use can cause cancer, heart problems, dementia, infertility and
a host of other conditions.
There are 2.5 million alcohol-related deaths
annually worldwide, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug
Dependence. Nearly 4 percent of all deaths around the world are due to alcohol
from injuries, cancer, cardiovascular diseases and liver cirrhosis. In the
U.S., alcohol abuse claims 88,000 lives
a year and is the third leading cause of preventable death, according to the
Drinking too much can take a toll on heart health. It can
raise your blood
pressure and the triglycerides in your blood. Heavy drinking raises the risk of stroke,
studies show. It can cause also cardiomyopathy,
a condition where the heart muscle weakens making it less able to pump blood
through the body. As the illness progresses, it can lead to heart failure and
The American Heart Association warns that heavy drinking can
trigger sudden cardiac death, a situation when the heart
stops working properly.
Drinking alcohol can raise the risk
of certain types of cancer, according to the American Cancer Society, including
cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus and voice box.
have shown that people who had three or more drinks a day were 1.5 times more
likely to get colorectal cancer than nondrinkers.
Alcohol is also the primary cause of liver cancer. More than
100 studies have shown a link
between drinking and breast cancer.
Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism warns that drinking causes the
pancreas to produce toxic substances that lead to Inflammation and swelling of
the blood vessels in the pancreas, an organ that aids in proper digestion.
Drinking too much can weaken your immune system, making your
body more susceptible to disease. Just think about how your body feels when you
have a hangover. Chronic drinkers are more susceptible to pneumonia and
tuberculosis than nondrinkers, according to the NIAAA.
Numerous studies have
shown a link between drinking and infertility, even in women who only have five
drinks a week. Research shows alcohol affects estrogen and progesterone levels
in women and causes changes in menstrual cycles and ovulation.
Long-term drinking can also affect the brain. Studies have shown brain damage in
excessive drinkers, resulting in memory loss and trouble with making plans or
It’s a chicken and egg discussion when it comes to
depression and alcohol use, but the medical community does agree that
depression and alcoholism go hand-in-hand. Some believe that depressed people
turn to drink in order to self-medicate. However, a large study published
in recent years found the reverse – heavy drinking leads to depression.
Clary warned that alcohol use interferes with medication and
yet many patients are not attuned to this problem. In other words, if someone
is being treated for depression, alcohol will impair the medication’s
effectiveness even if the person is drinking in moderation.
Drinking too much not only takes a toll on you, it can also
affect your child.
One in five adult Americans has lived with an alcoholic
relative while growing up, according to the American Academy of Child and
Adolescent Psychiatry. The group believes that this puts these children at
greater risk for having emotional problems than children whose parents are not
Alcoholism runs in families, and children of alcoholics are
four times more likely than other children to become alcoholics themselves,
according to the academy.
“In terms of relationships, alcoholics are oblivious to the
damage they cause to their spouses and children because they’re thinking solely
of themselves,” Clary said.
Families will likely avoid discussing the problem in order to
avoid arguments and disagreements in the hope of keeping the family stable and
not make the person who drinks more irritable or angry, Clary added.
Stress on the job
Drinking may manifest itself at the workplace with irritable
behavior, persistence lateness or absences. “Eventually, this person will find
himself without a job,” Clary said.
Warning signs include having someone close to you ask you to
cut back, getting in trouble at work and being pulled over for suspected
driving under the influence, the doctor said. Ultimately, Clary said, “If you
think you have a drinking problem, you have a drinking problem.”
The most important thing individuals can do if they suspect
they are having trouble with alcohol is to have a frank conversation with their
primary care doctor about options. How big a problem is it? Can the individual
stop on his or her own or is a detoxifying program necessary?
Clary said the best program to treat alcohol dependency is
Alcoholics Anonymous. “There are several medications to treat alcohol
dependency, but they don’t have the success rate of AA,” he said.