How much is too much alcohol?

Many people are heavy drinkers and put their health at risk without knowing it.

Alcohol consumption, may it be in the form of beer, wine, hard liquor or a mixed drink, should be limited to 7 drinks a week for women, or 14 drinks a week for men. Moreover, men shouldn’t have more than four drinks a day and women shouldn’t have more than three drinks a day. Any quantity exceeding these limits is considered heavy drinking.

What’s in a drink?

Excessive long-term drinking is associated with higher health risks.

The risk of bleeding from the esophagus or stomach increases with excessive drinking, as well as the risk of permanently damaging the pancreas and liver. The risk for cancers of the esophagus, liver, colon, and breast, in addition to other cancers, also rises.

Increasing alcohol consumption worsens the absorption of vitamins and nutrients, which can lead to malnutrition. Thus, excessive alcohol intake can inhibit the benefits of a healthy diet. Although moderate alcohol consumption can lower blood sugar levels, heavy consumption can cause insulin resistance, and as a consequence, can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Heavy drinking also heightens the risk for hypertension, or can increase blood pressure in those who already have hypertension. Hypertension negatively affects heart function.

Drinking alcohol can cause heartburn, can disrupt the sleep cycle or lead to depression. Many drinks, like beer, are high in calories and can cause weight gain. Therefore, heavy alcohol consumption increases many disease risks and worsens quality of life.

How can you lower your alcohol intake?

First, it is important to count the number of drinks and know the quantity of alcohol you are consuming at home or when going out. Setting goals gradually each week can help curb alcohol intake. For instance, what days will you decide to drink? How many drinks can you have on those days? It is always a good idea to establish goals before going out, or to limit the amount of alcohol to have around the house.

It is important to identify what triggers lead to heavy drinking and what situations to avoid. You can substitute drinking with other activities, like exercising or playing sports. Changing the way the drinking happens can also help, like drinking calmly and slowly. It is recommended to avoid drinking on an empty stomach and to eat beforehand so the alcohol is absorbed slowly. This can help prevent acid reflux or the development of an ulcer.

For further help or information, please ask your physician about possible treatments, or other strategies to curb or stop your alcohol consumption.

1. NIH NIAAA, “Tips for Cutting Down on Drinking.



Maya El Ghouayel is a second-year medical student at the University of Rochester. She studied Latin American Studies and Biology as an undergraduate. She is interested in infectious diseases and global health. Maya was raised in New York City but considers Rochester her new home. As a member of the Latino Medical Student Association contributed with this article for the August edition.

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