For the media

When does drinking become a problem?

By The Health News Team | August 15, 2023
People drinking wine

Drinking alcohol is a regular part of many people's lives. In fact, more than half of adults in the U.S. report they have had alcohol in the past 30 days. But because alcohol use is so prevalent, it can be easy to forget its potential to negatively impact your health.

Experts advise adults who choose to drink to limit intake to two drinks or fewer per day for men, and one drink or fewer per day for women. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines a standard drink as:

  • 12 ounces of beer (5% alcohol content)

  • 8 ounces of malt liquor (7% alcohol content)

  • 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol content)

  • 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits or liquor (40% alcohol content)

Heavy drinking is typically defined as consuming 15 drinks or more per week for men and eight drinks or more per week for women. Drinking less is better for overall health.

Health effects of excessive drinking

Binge drinking, defined as drinking five or more drinks on a single occasion for men, and four or more drinks on a single occasion for women, can lead to a variety of health issues. These include serious injuries or an alcohol use disorder.

Additionally, there are immediate and long-term risks of excessive drinking. The immediate risks include an increase in traumatic injuries, such as those due to falls and motor vehicle accidents; alcohol poisoning; and an increase in violent and risky sexual behaviors.

Over time, excessive drinking can lead to problems such as:

  • High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease and digestive problems

  • Cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, voice box, liver, colon and rectum

  • Weakening of the immune system, which increases the chances of getting sick

  • Learning and memory problems, including dementia and poor school performance

  • Mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety

  • Social problems, including family and job-related issues

  • Alcohol use disorders or dependence

If your drinking has become excessive, you may consider seeking help from an addiction treatment facility. There, specialists use different treatment methods, including medications as well as group, individual and family therapy. At the Sharp McDonald Center, patients can participate in a program based on their specific needs. Services include inpatient detox, residential programs and outpatient programs with varying degrees of support.

Receiving support is critical, says Serene Carruthers, LMFT, manager of Sharp McDonald Center, even after a person finishes treatment. “It can be very helpful for a person in recovery to surround themselves with others who can understand their experiences, offer insight and hold them accountable,” she says.

Carruthers adds that the recovery journey isn’t solely for individuals receiving treatment. Loved ones can also benefit from the process, she says, by receiving education about addiction and support. This helps break down the stigma of addiction, allowing loved ones to better understand their role in recovery. What’s more, it’s important for everyone to remember that recovery is an ongoing journey.

“Substance use disorders are a chronic medical disease,” Carruthers says. “One of the greatest challenges a person with addiction can face is practicing acceptance, including accepting support in various forms during their recovery journey.”

Learn about substance use treatment at Sharp McDonald Center; get the latest health and wellness news, trends and patient stories from Sharp Health News; and subscribe to our weekly newsletter by clicking the "Sign up" link below.

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