Nov 22nd, 2023

Excessive alcohol use led to more than 140,000 deaths each year in the U.S in 2015-2019, and 1 in 5 deaths among adults 20-49 years old (CDC).

One thing is abundantly clear—drinking too much can harm your health. Here are just a few ways this impacts our own back yard.

  • 19% of MO adults over 18 binge drink at least once per month
  • 71% of people who die from excessive alcohol use in MO are male
  • 80% of deaths from excessive alcohol use in MO are adults aged 35 years and older
  • 28% of MO students in grades 9-12 reported alcohol use
  • 15% of MO students in grades 9-12 reported binge drinking
  • 18% of MO female adults 18-44 reported binge drinking

To understand how alcohol impacts your health, it's important to understand some terminologies. Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is a medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences. It can vary from mild or moderate to severe and encompasses the conditions that some people refer to as alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence, alcohol addiction, and alcoholism.

1-in-10 U.S. Americans over the age of 12 have Alcohol Use Disorder.

A person’s risk for developing AUD depends in part on how much, how often, and how quickly they consume alcohol. Alcohol misuse, which includes binge drinking and excessive alcohol use, over time, increases the risk of AUD. Other contributing factors include drinking at an early age, family history of alcohol problems, and mental health conditions or a history of trauma.

Impact On Your Body

The effects of too much alcohol on the body are devastating. Health consequences of heavy alcohol use include inflammation of the stomach, inflammation of the liver, bleeding in the stomach and esophagus, impotence, permanent nerve and brain damage, and inflammation of the pancreas. There are both short and long term risks that excessive alcohol use and AUD can pose.

Short Term Health Risks

Alcohol use has immediate effects that increase the risk of many harmful conditions. These are most often the result of excessive alcohol use:

  • Injuries, such as motor vehicle crashes, falls, drownings, and burns
  • Violence, including homicide, suicide, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence
  • Loss of personal possessions like wallets, keys, or mobile phones
  • Alcohol poisoning, a medical emergency that may lead to vomiting, fits (seizures), falling unconscious
  • Risky sexual behaviors, including unprotected sex or sex with multiple partners that can result in unintended pregnancy or STDs
  • Miscarriage and stillbirth or fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) among pregnant women
Long Term Health Risks

Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases and other serious problems such as:

  • Alcohol use disorders
  • 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, increasing the chances of getting sick
  • Increased risk and severity of pneumonia, tuberculosis, and pancreatitis
  • Damage to the brain, blackouts, learning and memory problems, including dementia and poor school or work performance
  • Mental health problems, including depression and anxiety
  • Social problems, including family problems, divorce, job-related problems, unemployment, domestic abuse, and homelessness
  • Personality changes (e.g. aggression, deteriorated ability to function)

People with AUD on the severe end of the spectrum usually experience physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly stop drinking. These include hand tremors ("the shakes"), sweating, visual hallucinations, fatigue, depression, anxiety, nausea or vomiting, and difficulty sleeping or insomnia. It's imperative to see a doctor to seek the best treatment for an AUD diagnosis.

Are You Drinking Too Much?

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults of legal drinking age choose not to drink or to drink in moderation—this means drinking 2 drinks or less in a day for men, or 1 drink or less in a day for women (on days when alcohol is consumed).

As alcohol abuse progresses, the individual develops a tolerance to alcohol. He or she must drink more alcohol to get the desired good feeling or to get intoxicated.

What is 1 drink?

In the U.S., a standard drink contains 0.6 ounces of alcohol which is found in:
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 (40% alcohol content; e.g. rum, gin, vodka, whiskey)

Drinking too much can involve:

  • Heavy Drinking – 8+ drinks per week for women; 15+ or more drinks per week for men
  • Binge Drinking – 4+ drinks during a single occasion for women; 5+ drinks during a single occasion for men

These are warning signs that indicate you or someone you know may be misusing alcohol:

  • Feeling tempted to cut down on drinking (or frequent failed attempts)
  • Hearing criticism from others about someone's drinking
  • Continuing to drink despite the concern of others
  • Feeling guilty or bad about drinking
  • Needing a drink first thing in the morning to steady nerves or get rid of a hangover
  • Drinking beyond moderation regularly every week
  • Being unable to remember what happened the night of drinking
  • Failing commitments or expectations more regularly (e.g. missing appointments due to being drunk or hungover)

Getting Help

A person who needs help may be the last to realize that he or she has an alcohol problem. Understanding the basics of alcohol use and your health is important in helping to prevent alcohol use from rising to the level of becoming an AUD. If it does, there is effective treatment for AUDs. However, it begins by helping the drinker understand that he or she has a problem and needs help.

If you're concerned about your drinking or someone else's, it's best to consult a doctor. Other resources include the National Drug and Alcohol Treatment Referral Routing Service (1-800-662-HELP), Rethinking Drinking, the NIAA Alcohol Treatment Navigator or the NIAA Alcohol Treatment Program Search Tool.

Although they are modified for use in the U.K., these assessments also may help:

There is support available if you or someone you love has problems with alcohol abuse. From medications, to behavioral treatments, to mutual-support groups, and more; there are several evidence-based treatment options available for AUDs.

Remember, over 140,000 U.S. Americans die from the effects of alcohol in an average year. You can help lower that statistic by understanding the problem and sharing the valuable information that is shared here to empower people to make better drinking choices.

Source: NCDAS Alcohol Abuse Statistics, CDC Chronic Disease Indicators Report for Missouri-Alcohol, Harvard Health Publishing: Alcohol Abuse, NIH National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism