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Alcohol Use: Intake Quantities and Associated Health Risks

Hitting the bar with friends for the weekend is often a very attractive idea. Let’s face it; such moments are the stuff of hearty, memorable tales for raucous laughter among friends. 

Still, if you’re reading this article, you’re wondering about the potential risks—for there are some. You might already drink quite a bit and are trying to understand the risks of continuing.

With a solemn promise not to be too much fun, police, we will answer your questions and more as we discuss alcohol use and its associated risks. 

Let’s start by discussing quantity.

Moderate Vs Excessive Drinking 

Medical experts primarily advise you not to drink at all. According to the dietary guidelines from the American Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the more alcohol you drink, the greater the risk of harm. However, if you must, drink moderately.

So, how much drinking is moderate, and how much is excessive?

Moderate Drinking 

Most standard recommendations for moderate drinking focus on factors like “number of bottles.” For example, the CDC recommends that males take only two drinks (preferably less) daily, while females should not exceed one. 

However, alcoholic drinks don’t all have the same alcohol content per bottle—not even within the same category. So, a standard “drink” is often defined in terms of alcohol content per measure. 

In the US, a standard drink is any containing measure containing 14 grams of pure alcohol. That’s 12 ounces of regular beer (with a 5% alcohol content), 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol), or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (40% alcohol). 

Excessive Drinking 

Generally speaking, you’re drinking excessively if your alcohol intake exceeds two drinks, according to the standard definitions we just talked about. Still, there’s more under the definition of excessive intake.

If you consume five or more drinks on a single occasion (defined as 2-3 hours), this is considered binge drinking. If you’re female, the threshold is four drinks. Consuming up to 15 drinks a week (8, if you’re female) qualifies as heavy drinking. 

When done too often, both binging and heavy drinking qualify as “problem drinking.” This is itself, usually just a short work from straight-up alcoholism, which is the most extreme form of excessive drinking. 

What to Do About Excessive Drinking 

If you find that you’ve been drinking excessively, the best thing to do is to stop immediately. As we will soon discuss, excessive alcohol intake takes its toll. However, if you find it hard to do a complete 180 on the booze, then you might have an addiction or the beginnings of one. 

Your first step from there should be admitting you have a problem and then actively seeking help. You can see a medical professional for help or start attending an alcohol recovery support group. 

Alternatively, you can integrate recovery practices like the 12 Steps to Recovery by Alcoholics Anonymous, as it’s a surefire technique geared towards tackling alcohol use disorder. 

Effects of Alcohol Use

As we mentioned before, alcohol consumption takes its toll on you. Now, let’s look at some interesting facts about indulging in alcohol as it pertains to its influence on your health. 

Cardiovascular Health

In the short run, alcohol intake causes your heart rate to go up and your blood vessels to expand. This leads to more blood flow to your skin, resulting in a rapid rise in body temperature and a rapid fall after the heat exits through the skin.

In the long run, alcohol raises your cholesterol levels, which can lead to heart disease. Drinking moderately may be more sustainable, as it only increases your HDL cholesterol, which is ‘good’ since it carries a lower risk of coronary heart disease. 

This type of cholesterol doesn’t really undermine cardiac care. However, heavier drinking is associated with increased levels of LDL and total cholesterol, which is, in turn, linked to a higher risk of heart attacks and strokes. 

Brain Health 

When drunk, you may experience a feeling of vertigo and some difficulty finding your steps. This is because alcohol acts on, among other things, the chemical pathways your brain uses to control motor function. 

It also affects your brain’s mood regulation and impairs your memory. In the long run, your brain begins to shrink, losing more and more grey and white matter. 

Liver and Kidney Health 

overview of liver

Your liver metabolizes most of the alcohol you take in, but doing that job takes its toll. It becomes weakened over time so that, in the long run, you are likely to suffer diseases like liver cancer, steatosis, cirrhosis, alcohol hepatitis, or fibrosis. 

As for the kidneys, they don’t fare very well under the constant dehydration that tends to follow from heavy and constant alcohol use. 

In some rare cases, the extra work the kidneys have to do to filter out alcohol can cause significant drops in kidney function, significantly when alcohol disrupts the hormones that control said function. 

Digestive Health 

Gut health takes quite a hit from alcohol consumption. Let’s start with the stomach—the first place all the alcohol goes. In the stomach, alcohol can cause a drop in mucus production that lines the stomach wall, resulting in inflammation over time. 

Then, it gets to the small intestine and colon, where it is further broken down and absorbed, potentially causing irritation and a reduction in the average speed of food and fluids through these organs. This can lead to bloating, abdominal pain, and even diarrhea. 

Immune Health 

Alcohol is known to adversely affect the cells in your immune system and alter their capacity to fight infection effectively. For example, if the cells lining your airways have been damaged by alcohol, viruses like COVID-19 can gain easy access. 

It can also destroy the gut bacteria that help you fight against gastrointestinal infections. Moreover, some research links excessive alcohol consumption to diseases like adult respiratory distress syndrome and respiratory syncytial virus. 


From what we’ve discussed, it should be clear that alcohol consumption carries significant health risks. So, does that mean you can visit the bar or have a few drinks with friends? Not at all. While it’s best not to drink, it’s at least medically more advisable to do it in moderation than in excess.

Our standard recommendations will also help you determine how much you can take with minimal health risk.

Still, the health risks we have treated here are present, some even for moderate drinkers. Additionally, some individuals may be more at risk of these health problems than others. 

Therefore, we recommend keeping your personal and family medical history with such ailments in mind. If you have a family history of liver disease, for instance, you are better off opting for non-alcoholic beverages.

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