The Dangers of Alcohol

November 15th, 2015 - It’s a medical fact that drinking too much alcohol can harm your health.

The numbers alone tell a gruesome story. Nearly 88,000 people—75% of them, men—die from alcohol-related causes annually, making it the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States, behind tobacco use and medical errors, according to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. People who die from alcohol shorten their lives by almost 30 years. Furthermore, excessive drinking costs the economy upwards of $200 billion annually.

Beyond the numbers, excessive alcohol use has immediate effects that increase the risk of many harmful conditions. These are often the result of binge drinking, defined as four drinks for a woman and five drinks for a man at one sitting. Heavy drinking is defined as eight drinks a week for a woman and 15 drinks a week for a man. If you are or may be pregnant and have health problems, these could be exacerbated by drinking. If one chooses to drink, it should be done in moderation; one drink per day for a woman and two drinks per day for a man.

There are myriad short-and long-term risks of alcohol consumption. Short-term health risks include injuries due to motor vehicle crashes, falls, drownings, and burns. Violence, including homicide, suicide, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence, adds to these short-term risks. Reproductive health is also affected adversely by alcohol use, from such things as engagement in risky sexual behaviors, unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases including HIV, miscarriage, stillbirth, and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs).

Long-term health risks from alcohol include high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive problems. Cancer risk increases with chronic alcohol use, including breast, oral, liver, and colon. Learning and memory problems are common with depression, anxiety, and many other psychiatric disorders exacerbated by alcohol abuse. Poor school performance can many times be traced back to alcohol use during pregnancy or excess alcohol use within a home containing school aged children.

Societal problems with lost productivity, family discord, divorce, unemployment all are made worse with alcohol.

Alcohol dependence (or as formally termed, “alcohol use disorder”), is problem drinking that can easily sneak up on an otherwise healthy and mentally well person. Having two of the following characteristics places you in the category of alcohol use disorder:

  • Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer than you intended.
  • More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t.
  • Spent a lot of time drinking or became sick from alcohol.
  • Experienced craving which is a strong need or urge to drink.
  • Found that drinking or being sick from drinking interfered with taking care of home, family, work, or school.
  • Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with family and friends.
  • Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you in order to drink.
  • More than once gotten into situations while drinking or after drinking which increased your chances of getting hurt, such as driving, swimming, walking in dangerous areas, etc.
  • Continued to drink even though it was making you depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem.
  • Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want.
  • Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off you had withdrawal symptoms such as insomnia, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, or sensed things that were not there.

If you are you troubled by your own or someone else’s drinking, help and hope are just a phone call away by contacting Al-Anon Family Groups Meeting Schedule 239-263-5907 or          

The key takeaway message for anyone is, as the saying goes, “If you must drink, drink responsibly.” Know the warning signs and dangers and seek help if you detect them.

After all, we only have one life to live. And to make it longer, happier and healthier, be aware and respectful of the dangers of alcohol.

Past Health Advice Articles

Dr. Allen Weiss is CEO & President of the NCH Healthcare System. He is board certified in Internal Medicine, Rheumatology and Geriatrics, and was in private practice in Naples, Florida from 1977 - 2000. Dr. Weiss is active in a variety of professional organizations and boards, and has been published in numerous medical journals, including the American Journal of Medicine and the Journal of Clinical Investigation.