Alcohol Is a Dangerous Drug

Alcohol itself is not inherently evil. When used responsibly, alcohol can turn social gatherings into pleasant and enjoyable experiences. But if you find that you can't control your alcohol intake, or that your personality tends to severely change when you drink, it could be a sign of an underlying problem.


Watch Now: 5 Health Problems That Can Be Caused by Excessive Drinking


Alcohol Is a Very Harmful Drug

Friends Drinking Alcohol
Alcohol Itself Is Not Evil. © Getty Images

Alcohol itself is not inherently evil. When used responsibly, alcohol can turn social gatherings into pleasant and enjoyable experiences. But when it is misused, or addiction to alcohol occurs, alcohol can do more overall harm than any other drug in the world.

So, to keep your alcohol consumption safe, exactly how much can you drink? How much is too much and what happens if you exceed the recommended levels? The next seven slides will show you the recommended guidelines for alcohol and you may be surprised at just how little alcohol it takes to become dangerous.​​


At-Risk Drinking

3 Wine Bottle Corks
Safe Is 3 Drinks, Not 3 Bottles. © Getty Images

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, these are the levels at which alcohol consumption is considered as binge drinking and is therefore dangerous:

For Men: Five or more drinks during a two-hour drinking session.

For Women: Four drinks or more during a two-hour drinking session.

If you binge drink for five days or more in the span of a month, you are considered a "heavy" drinker and therefore at risk for developing alcohol use disorders, as well as other health and behavioral problems because of the level of your alcohol consumption.

Even if you drink only three days a week, if you drink a six-pack on each of those days, your drinking is at harmful levels.

Moderate or normal alcohol consumption for men is two drinks per day whereas for women one drink per day is considered safe.

People who drink less than the above guidelines are at "low risk" for developing alcohol-related problems. But the only way to be at no risk of having alcohol-related problems is to not drink at all.


Binge Drinking

One Can Left in Six Pack
A 6-Pack in One Day Is Binge Drinking. © Getty Images

You may have heard that binge drinking is particularly harmful. But, what exactly constitutes binge drinking? You may be surprised to find out how few drinks it takes to make you a binge drinker.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, four or more drinks during a single drinking session for women and five or more drinks during a single occasion for men is considered binge drinking.

In other words, if your usual drinking pattern includes drinking a six-pack while watching the game or drinking an entire bottle of wine during an evening, you are a binge drinker.


Alcohol Is an Adult Beverage

Teen Passed Out at Prom
Underage Drinking Is Simply Dangerous. © Getty Images

Alcohol is an adult beverage. Throughout the United States, the legal drinking age is 21 and there are some very good reasons why.

First, research shows that early onset drinking is linked to alcohol use disorders in later adulthood. The earlier in life a person begins drinking, the more likely they will end up with serious alcohol problems later.

Because the human brain is still developing up until age 25, heavy drinking by children and teens can cause cognitive and learning disabilities.

Also, underage drinking is linked to increased injury and deaths. When some states dropped the legal drinking age to 18 in the 1970s, alcohol-related fatalities skyrocketed in those states. The 16 to 19 age group is already more prone to have fatal traffic mishaps, and drinking alcohol only multiplies that risk.

It is no coincidence that Alcohol Awareness Month is held in April—the beginning of prom and graduation season for high school students. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, one-third of alcohol-related traffic fatalities involving teens each year happen between April and June, the prom-graduation season.

If you are not yet 21, the safest decision you can make is to wait until you are old enough to drink legally. Just because you are going to prom or you graduate from high school doesn't suddenly make drinking alcohol a good idea.


Dangers of Alcohol Impairment

Girl Passed Out at Party
Impairment Increases the Risks. © Getty Images

Drinking alcohol can impair your ability to react and lower your inhibitions, both of which can cause problems. Research shows that alcohol consumption can impair reaction times and decision-making at blood-alcohol levels lower than the 0.08 legal intoxication level at 0.05 BAC.

Being physically and mentally impaired by alcohol can have dangerous consequences. Drunk driving rates have dropped drastically over the past 10 years, but 10,076 people still died in alcohol-related vehicle crashes in 2013, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

People who drink to the level of intoxication are not only more prone to injuries and even death, they are also more likely to engage in unsafe sex and other problem behaviors.

Again, young people are more susceptible to the dangers of alcohol impairment than older adults. Each year, among the 18 to 24 age group, 1,825 college students die from unintentional alcohol-related injuries such as car crashes. An estimated 696,000 students each year are physically assaulted by other students who have been drinking, and another 97,000 students have reported sexual assault or date rape during instances where alcohol was involved.

It's also worth noting that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.


Health Effects of Alcohol

Man Talking With Nurse
Alcohol Abuse Has Consequences. © Getty Images

If you are an at-risk drinker, a binge drinker, a heavy drinker, a chronic drinker, or a daily drinker, chances are you have become addicted to alcohol, and your health is going to be negatively affected by alcohol in some way. It's not really a question of if, it's a question of when.

Alcohol consumption at harmful levels can lead to damage the digestive, central nervous, cardiovascular, and endocrine systems in the body. The list of health effects of alcohol is substantial. It can damage the liver, the heart, the brain, and many other organs in the body.

Alcohol is a known carcinogen. It has been linked to cancers of the mouth and throat, breast cancer, liver cancer and colon cancer, among others. The CDC states that the more alcohol you consume, the greater the risk of developing some types of cancer.

If you have ever had a hangover, or if you have ever experienced alcohol withdrawal symptoms when you quit drinking for awhile, that was probably your body telling you that you have an alcohol use disorder.


Risk of Alcohol Overdose

Man Passed Out
You Can Overdose on Alcohol. © Getty Images

Yes, you can die from an overdose of alcohol. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an average of 2,221 people over age 15 die each year of acute alcohol poisoning. That's an average of six deaths per day.

When you first begin drinking alcohol, it initially acts as a stimulant in your brain, but as you continue to consume more alcohol, it then begins to act like a depressant. That's because alcohol is a central nervous system depressant and slows your breathing. It also slows your gag reflex, which means if you pass out from drinking too much and vomit, you could end up choking to death.

If you drink excessive amounts of alcohol because you want to impress your friends or fraternity brothers, or you try to drink 21 shots on your 21st birthday, or if you go on a bender for several days and become so intoxicated you lose track of how much you have had to drink, you can end up dead.

One of the more common ways that alcohol deaths occur is when alcohol is combined with other drugs or medications such as sedatives or painkillers.


Reduce the Risks of Alcohol Consumption

Measuring a Mixed Drink
Take Steps to Reduce Your Harm. © Getty Images

The good news about harmful drinking levels is you can take steps to reduce the harm. If your drinking has caused you any negative consequences—health, social, economic or legal—you may want to cut back on your consumption.

Any steps that you take to reduce the amount of alcohol you drink will reduce its harmful effects. You may be able to cut down on the number of drinks you have per session or reduce the number of drinking days you have per month. Either method will reduce the harm.

However, you may find that you are not able to cut back on your drinking for any significant period of time. Try as you might, you may find that you return to your previous drinking level in spite of your best efforts. If that is the case, your best option may be to quit drinking altogether to avoid relapse and seek professional help for support.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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