When to avoid alcohol use
In certain situations, the risks of alcohol may outweigh the possible health benefits. For example, talk to your doctor about alcohol use if:
- You're pregnant or trying to become pregnant
- You've been diagnosed with alcoholism or alcohol abuse, or you have a strong family history of alcoholism
- You have liver or pancreatic disease
- You have heart failure or you've been told you have a weak heart
- You take prescription or over-the-counter medications that can interact with alcohol
- You've had a hemorrhagic stroke (when a blood vessel in your brain leaks or ruptures)
The risks of heavy alcohol use
Heavy drinking is defined as more than three drinks on any day or more than seven drinks a week for women and for men older than age 65, and more than four drinks on any day or more than 14 drinks a week for men age 65 and younger.
Binge drinking is defined as four or more drinks within two hours for women and five or more drinks within two hours for men.
While moderate alcohol use may offer some health benefits, heavy drinking — including binge drinking — has no health benefits. Excessive drinking can increase your risk of serious health problems, including:
- Certain cancers, including breast cancer and cancers of the mouth, throat and esophagus
- Sudden death if you already have cardiovascular disease
- Heart muscle damage (alcoholic cardiomyopathy) leading to heart failure
- High blood pressure
- Liver disease
- Accidental serious injury or death
- Brain damage and other problems in an unborn child
- Alcohol withdrawal syndrome
Drink alcohol only in moderation — or not at all
The latest dietary guidelines make it clear that no one should begin drinking or drink more frequently on the basis of potential health benefits. So don't feel pressured to drink alcohol. However, if you do drink alcohol and you're healthy, there's probably no need to stop as long as you drink responsibly and in moderation.
Aug. 30, 2016
See more In-depth
- How much is too much? Rethinking drinking. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. http://rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/. Accessed July 5, 2016.
- Mukamal KJ. Overview of the risks and benefits of alcohol consumption. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed July 5, 2016.
- Tangney CC, et al. Cardiovascular benefits and risks of moderate alcohol consumption. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed July 5, 2016.
- Alcohol use in older adults. National Institute on Aging. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/alcohol-use-older-people. Accessed July 14, 2016.
- Older adults. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/special-populations-co-occurring-disorders/older-adults. Accessed July 14, 2016.
- Alcohol's effects on the body. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/alcohols-effects-body. Accessed July 14, 2016.
- Klatsky AL. Alcohol and cardiovascular diseases: Where do we stand today? Journal of Internal Medicine. 2015;278:238.
- 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines. Accessed July 5, 2016.
- Drinking and driving: A threat to everyone. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/DrinkingAndDriving/index.html. Accessed July 5, 2016.
- Hoffman HS, et al. Management of moderate and severe alcohol withdrawal syndromes. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed July 5, 2016.
- Chang G. Alcohol use and pregnancy. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed July 14, 2016.