Drinks like beer, malt liquor, wine, and hard liquor contain alcohol. Alcohol is the ingredient that gets you drunk.
Hard liquor—such as whiskey, rum, or gin—has more alcohol in it than beer, malt liquor, or wine.
The following drink sizes contain about the same amount of alcohol:
- 1 ½ ounces of hard liquor
- 5 ounces of wine
- 8 ounces of malt liquor
- 12 ounces of beer
Effects of Alcohol on the Body and Brain
Drinking too much–on a single occasion or over time—can take a serious toll on your health. Here’s how alcohol can affect your body and brain:
- Brain: Alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways and can affect the way the brain looks and works. These disruptions can change mood and behavior, and make it harder to think clearly and move with coordination.
- Heart: Drinking a lot over a long time or too much on a single occasion can damage the heart, causing problems such as stroke, high blood pressure, and arrhythmia.
- Liver: Heavy drinking takes a toll on the liver and can lead to a variety of problems such as alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis
- Pancreas: Alcohol causes the pancreas to produce toxic substances that can eventually lead to pancreatitis, a dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas that prevents proper digestion.
- Cancer: Drinking too much alcohol can increase your risk of developing certain cancers, including cancers of the mouth, esophagus, throat, liver, and breast.
- Immune system: Drinking too much can weaken your immune system, making your body a much easier target for disease. Chronic drinkers are more liable to contract diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis than people who do not drink too much. Drinking a lot on a single occasion slows your body’s ability to ward off infections—even up to twenty-hour hours after getting drunk.
Drinking Levels Defined
So how much is “drinking too much”? The following guidelines are from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism:
- Moderate alcohol consumption: According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, moderate drinking is up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men.
- Binge drinking: Binge drinking is a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 g/dL. This typically occurs after 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men—in about 2 hours. Binge drinking has become a major health and safety issue on college campuses.
- Heavy drinking: Heavy drinking is defined as drinking 5 or more drinks on the same occasion on each of 5 or more days in the past 30 days.
- Low risk for developing an alcohol use disorder: For women, low-risk drinking is no more than 3 drinks on any single day and no more than 7 drinks per week. For men, it’s defined as no more than 4 drinks on any single day and no more than 14 drinks per week. NIAAA research shows that only about 2 in 100 people who drink within these limits have an alcohol use disorder. Even within these limits, you can have problems if you drink too quickly or have other health issues.
Certain people should avoid alcohol completely, including those who
- Plan to drive a vehicle or operate machinery
- Take medications that interact with alcohol
- Have a medical condition that alcohol can aggravate
- Are pregnant or trying to become pregnant