Problems Caused by Alcohol

You can reduce the risk of alcohol causing health and other problems by not exceeding the recommended limits on alcohol drinks.

Drinking limits for men and women:

AGE GROUP DAILY LIMIT WEEKLY LIMIT
Healthy men, 65 and younger 4 drinks 14 drinks
Healthy men over 65 3 drinks 7 drinks
All healthy women 3 drinks 7 drinks

The recommended limits are based on the following amounts of alcohol in a drink.

alcohol drink servings

Interactions With Medicines

Drinking alcohol while taking certain medicines can cause problems, especially if you're taking pain medicine, anti-anxiety medicine, or antidepressants.

Problems can range from increased drowsiness (if taking cold or allergy medicine) to serious liver damage (if taking high doses of acetaminophen, such as Tylenol or other products containing acetaminophen).

Talk to your doctor if you have any questions about drinking alcohol while taking your medicines.

Alcohol-Related Health Problems

Alcohol affects nearly every organ in the body. Alcohol intoxication causes loss of coordination and can lead to car accidents, other injuries (falls, broken bones, and head injuries), and risky behavior (such as unsafe sex).

Alcohol intoxication can be severe enough to cause poisoning and death from too much alcohol. Short-term health effects from alcohol abuse can include sexual problems, difficulty sleeping, anxiety, periods of depression, and high blood pressure.

It can also lead to unsafe decisions about sex, increasing the risk for sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancy.

Heavy drinking over many years increases the risk for serious health problems including alcohol-related liver disease (hepatitis or cirrhosis,) heart disease, stomach problems, brain damage, cancer, and pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas). These diseases can be very painful and many can lead to long-term disability and even death.

Pregnancy and Drinking

Women who are pregnant or might soon become pregnant should not drink alcohol. Alcohol causes birth defects and more subtle long-term problems in babies. It's not known how much alcohol it takes or at what time during a pregnancy the damage happens. For this reason, it's important not to drink alcohol at any time during pregnancy.

Drinking and Driving

Many people are surprised to find out it doesn't take much alcohol to affect their ability to drive a car or boat, or operate machinery safely. Although most states in this country set the blood alcohol limit at 0.08 for driving, a blood alcohol level as low as 0.02 percent can affect your driving skills — especially if combined with taking medicine.

Relationships

People who drink too much typically have more problems at work, school, with friends and family, and at home. These problems can include arguments with family, friends or co-workers, and missing or being late for family and work commitments. Additionally, people may not perform job duties well. People who drink too much are also at a greater risk for committing, or being a victim of, violence and abuse.


Clinical review by Ryan Caldeiro, MD
Group Health
Reviewed 12/15/2011
Rethinking Drinking

Learn more about assessing your drinking habits and health risks. Rethinking Drinking is research-based information from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Get strategies to limit or stop drinking. The site has resources for teens, parents, pregnant women, and older adults.

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