According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), people drink to socialize, celebrate, and relax. Alcohol often has a strong effect on people – and throughout history, we’ve struggled to understand and manage alcohol’s power.
Alcohol’s effects vary from person to person, depending on a variety of factors, including:
- How much you drink
- How often you drink
- Your age
- Your health status
- Your family history
What is a “standard” drink?
- Problems walking
- Slurred speech
- Blurry vision
- Impaired reaction time
- Reduced inhibitions (ex. getting into an accident/getting injured, engaging in possible criminal behaviors, being more open to trying other drugs, taking part in unwanted or unsafe sexual encounters)
- Weight gain
- Problems with coordination
- Nerve damage
- Inflammation of the liver (alcoholic hepatitis)
- Scarring of the liver (cirrhosis)
- Cancer of the liver
- Increase blood pressure
- Damage of the heart muscle (alcoholic cardiomyopathy)
- Disruption of the healthy growth of new brain cells
Alcohol Use Disorder
Problem drinking that becomes severe is given the medical diagnosis of “alcohol use disorder” or AUD. AUD is a chronic relapsing brain disorder characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences.
- ~ 15 million people in the United States have AUD.
- ~ 5.8 percent or 14.4 million adults in the United States ages 18 and older had AUD in 2018. This includes 9.2 million men and 5.3 million women.
- Adolescents can be diagnosed with AUD as well, and in 2018, an estimated 401,000 adolescents ages 12–17 had AUD.
Alcohol and the Expecting Mom
Fetal alcohol exposure occurs when a woman drinks while pregnant. Alcohol can disrupt fetal development at any stage during a pregnancy—including at the earliest stages before a woman even knows she is pregnant.
During pregnancy, almost every substance in your body can pass to your baby. This means the baby shares alcohol and other substances you use while pregnant. This can cause Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS).
According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health:
- Almost 10 percent or pregnant women reported drinking alcohol in the previous month
- Almost 5 percent of pregnant women reported binge drinking in the previous month (4 or more drinks per occasion)
If a pregnant woman struggles with AUD, it is important to seek treatment. Priority should be given to pregnant women.
If you suspect that someone has alcohol poisoning, even if you don’t see the classic signs and symptoms, seek immediate medical care.
Snoring or Gasping for Air
Loss of Consciousness
Paleness or Blueness of Skin
If the person is unconscious, breathing less than eight times a minute or has repeated, uncontrolled vomiting, call 911 immediately.
If the person is conscious, call 800-222-1222 (in the U.S.) and you’ll automatically be routed to your local poison control center.
- Resources to Support States and Communities in the Prevention of Excessive Drinking
- Guide for Measuring Alcohol Outlet Density
- Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public: Mythbusters (Alcohol)