Drinking alcohol is a health risk regardless of the amount.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Research on alcohol suggests a sobering conclusion: Drinking alcohol in any amount carries a health risk. While the risk is low for moderate intake, the risk goes up as the amount you drink goes up.

Many people drink alcohol as a personal preference, during social activities, or as a part of cultural and religious practices. People who choose not to drink make that choice for the same reasons. Knowing your personal risk based on your habits can help you make the best decision for you.

The evidence for moderate alcohol use in healthy adults is still being studied. But good evidence shows that drinking high amounts of alcohol are clearly linked to health problems.

Here's a closer look at alcohol and health.

Heavy drinking, including binge drinking, is a high-risk activity.

The definition of heavy drinking is based on a person's sex. For women, more than three drinks on any day or more than seven drinks a week is heavy drinking. For men, heavy drinking means more than four drinks on any day or more than 14 drinks a week.

Binge drinking is behavior that raises blood alcohol levels to 0.08%. That usually means four or more drinks within two hours for women and five or more drinks within two hours for men.

Heavy drinking can increase your risk of serious health problems, including:

  • Certain cancers, such as colorectal cancer, breast cancer and cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus and liver.
  • Liver disease.
  • Cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure and stroke.

Heavy drinking also has been linked to intentional injuries, such as suicide, as well as accidental injury and death.

During pregnancy, drinking may cause the unborn baby to have brain damage and other problems. Heavy drinking also may result in alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

In some situations, the risk of drinking any amount of alcohol is high. Avoid all alcohol if you:

  • Are trying to get pregnant or are pregnant.
  • Take medicine that has side effects if you drink alcohol.
  • Have alcohol use disorder.
  • Have medical issues that alcohol can worsen.

In the United States, people younger than age 21 are not legally able to drink alcohol.

When taking care of children, avoid alcohol. And the same goes for driving or if you need to be alert and able to react to changing situations.

Lots of activities affect your health. Some are riskier than others. When it comes to alcohol, if you don't drink, don't start for health reasons.

Drinking moderately if you're otherwise healthy may be a risk you're willing to take. But heavy drinking carries a much higher risk even for those without other health concerns. Be sure to ask your healthcare professional about what's right for your health and safety.

Jan. 20, 2024