April is Alcohol Awareness Month
Submitted by CDC
By not drinking too much, you can reduce the risk of short- and long-term health risks.
Did you know that drinking too much can harm your health? Excessive alcohol use, including underage drinking and binge drinking, can lead to increased risk of health problems such as injuries, violence, liver disease, and cancer.
Study of Alcohol-Related Deaths Among US Adults
In a 2014 study of alcohol dependence among US adult drinkers, CDC researchers found that from 2006 through 2010, excessive alcohol consumption accounted for nearly 1 in 10 deaths among working-age US adults aged 20-64. The study, published in CDC’s Preventing Chronic Disease, also revealed that excessive alcohol use led to approximately 88,000 deaths and 2.5 million years of potential life lost each year during this period, shortening the lives of those who died by an average of 30 years.
These deaths were due to health effects from drinking too much over time, such as breast cancer, liver disease, and heart disease, and health effects from consuming a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time, such as violence, alcohol poisoning, and motor vehicle crashes.
Study of Alcohol Dependence Among US Adults
In another study published in CDC’s Preventing Chronic Disease, researchers found that 9 in 10 people who drink excessively are not alcohol dependent. Alcohol dependence is a chronic medical condition that includes a current or past history of excessive drinking, a strong craving for alcohol, continued use despite repeated problems with drinking, and an inability to control alcohol consumption.
The study found that nearly 1 in 3 adults are excessive drinkers, and most of them binge drink, usually on multiple occasions. In contrast, about 1 in 30 adults are classified as alcohol dependent. Rates of alcohol dependence increase with the amount of alcohol consumed. For instance, about 10% of binge drinkers are alcohol dependent, while 30% of people who binge frequently (10 or more times a month) are alcohol dependent.
What Can be Done
Alcohol dependence is a serious medical problem, and it is important to assure that high-quality treatment for this condition is available to those who need it. However, most excessive drinkers are not alcohol dependent; therefore, it is also important to implement effective community and clinical prevention strategies for excessive drinking−such as increasing the price of alcohol, reducing alcohol availability, and screening and counseling for excessive drinking among all adults in primary care. A comprehensive approach to reducing excessive drinking that includes evidence-based community strategies, screening and counseling for excessive drinking among adults in healthcare settings, and high-quality substance abuse treatment for those who need it is likely to have the greatest impact on reducing excessive drinking and related harms.
Excessive Alcohol Use and Risks to Men’s Health
Men are more likely than women to drink excessively. Excessive drinking is associated with significant increases in short-term risks to health and safety, and the risk increases as the amount of drinking increases. Men are also more likely than women to take other risks (e.g., drive fast or without a safety belt), when combined with excessive drinking, further increasing their risk of injury or death.
Drinking levels among men
- Approximately 58% of adult men report drinking alcohol in the last 30 days.
- Approximately 23% of adult men report binge drinking 5 times a month, averaging 8 drinks per binge.
- Men are almost two times more likely to binge drink than women.
- Most (90%) people who binge drink are not alcoholics or alcohol dependent.
- About 4.5% of men and 2.5% of women met the diagnostic criteria for alcohol dependence in the past year.
Injuries and deaths as a result of excessive alcohol use
- Men consistently have higher rates of alcohol-related deaths and hospitalizations than women.
- Among drivers in fatal motor-vehicle traffic crashes, men are almost twice as likely as women to have been intoxicated (i.e., a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or greater).
- Excessive alcohol consumption increases aggression and, as a result, can increase the risk of physically assaulting another person.
- Men are more likely than women to commit suicide, and more likely to have been drinking prior to committing suicide.
Reproductive Health and Sexual Function
Excessive alcohol use can interfere with testicular function and male hormone production resulting in impotence, infertility, and reduction of male secondary sex characteristics such as facial and chest hair.
Excessive alcohol use is commonly involved in sexual assault.17 Also, alcohol use by men increases the chances of engaging in risky sexual activity including unprotected sex, sex with multiple partners, or sex with a partner at risk for sexually transmitted diseases.
Alcohol consumption increases the risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon in men.
Excessive Alcohol Use and Risks to Women’s Health
Although men are more likely to drink alcohol and drink in larger amounts, gender differences in body structure and chemistry cause women to absorb more alcohol, and take longer to break it down and remove it from their bodies (i.e., to metabolize it). In other words, upon drinking equal amounts, women have higher alcohol levels in their blood than men, and the immediate effects of alcohol occur more quickly and last longer in women than men. These differences also make it more likely that drinking will cause long-term health problems in women than men.
Drinking Levels among Women
- Approximately 46% of adult women report drinking alcohol in the last 30 days.
- Approximately 12% of adult women report binge drinking 3 times a month, averaging 5 drinks per binge.
- Most (90%) people who binge drink are not alcoholics or alcohol dependent.
- About 2.5% of women and 4.5% of men met the diagnostic criteria for alcohol dependence in the past year.
Reproductive Health Outcomes
- National surveys show that about 1 in 2 women of child-bearing age (i.e., aged 18–44 years) drink alcohol, and 18% of women who drink alcohol in this age group binge drink.
- Excessive drinking may disrupt the menstrual cycle and increase the risk of infertility.
- Women who binge drink are more likely to have unprotected sex and multiple sex partners. These activities increase the risks of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
- About 10% of pregnant women drink alcohol.
- Women who drink alcohol while pregnant increase their risk of having a baby with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). The most severe form is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), which causes mental retardation and birth defects.
- FASD are completely preventable if a woman does not drink while pregnant or while she may become pregnant. It is not safe to drink at any time during pregnancy.
- Excessive drinking increases a woman’s risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, and premature delivery.
- Women who drink alcohol while pregnant are also more likely to have a baby die from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). This risk substantially increases if a woman binge drinks during her first trimester of pregnancy.
Other Health Concerns
- Liver Disease: The risk of cirrhosis and other alcohol-related liver diseases is higher for women than for men.
- Impact on the Brain: Excessive drinking may result in memory loss and shrinkage of the brain. Research suggests that women are more vulnerable than men to the brain damaging effects of excessive alcohol use, and the damage tends to appear with shorter periods of excessive drinking for women than for men.
- Impact on the Heart: Studies have shown that women who drink excessively are at increased risk for damage to the heart muscle than men even for women drinking at lower levels.
- Cancer: Alcohol consumption increases the risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon, and breast among women. The risk of breast cancer increases as alcohol use increases.
- Sexual Assault: Binge drinking is a risk factor for sexual assault, especially among young women in college settings. Each year, about 1 in 20 college women are sexually assaulted. Research suggests that there is an increase in the risk of rape or sexual assault when both the attacker and victim have used alcohol prior to the attack.
Excessive alcohol consumption is the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States and is a risk factor for many health and societal problems. In 2010, the estimated economic cost of excessive drinking in the U. S. was $249 billion (Sacks et al., 2015).
Excessive drinking includes binge drinking, heavy drinking, and any drinking by pregnant women or people younger than age 21 (CDC 2015).
- Binge drinking, the most common form of drinking, is defined as consuming five or more drinks during a single occasion for men or four or more drinks during a single occasion for women.
- Heavy drinking is defined as consuming fifteen or more drinks per week for men or eight or more drinks per week for women.
Most people who drink excessively are not alcoholics or alcohol dependent (Esser et al., 2014).
Underage drinking is considered a form of excessive drinking because it is both illegal and often involves consumption in quantities and settings that can lead to serious immediate and long-term consequences.