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4 facts about the health effects of alcohol

A person tilting a glass of liquor that's about to spill.

Jan. 27, 2020—The effects of drinking alcohol can be felt in as little as 10 minutes when you're having drinks with friends. But it takes much longer for it to leave your body.

Alcohol can impact your health in both the short and long term. And its consequences can be serious.

4 facts about alcohol and your health

1. Alcohol can stay in your system for hours. How quickly your body processes alcohol varies based on your weight, metabolism, age, the strength of the alcohol and many other factors.

In general, it takes roughly one hour for your body to break down a standard drink of alcohol. That’s about one hour for every 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5-ounce shot of 80-proof gin, rum, whiskey or vodka.

So if you have two drinks, it would take two hours for your body to break it down. That's why it's so important for you to avoid activities that require coordination and alertness if you've been drinking. That means driving is out.

2. Alcohol has immediate risks. Alcohol can lower inhibitions, cloud judgment and impair coordination. And the more you drink, the more it affects you. Risky drinking can lead to:

  • Car crashes, falls, drownings and other accidents.
  • Fights and other violence.
  • Suicide.
  • Risky sexual behaviors, such as unprotected sex.
  • Alcohol poisoning (a medical emergency).

 

3. Alcohol can hurt you even after you sober up. Over time, alcohol use can increase your risk for health problems, such as:

  • High blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.
  • Liver disease.
  • Cancers of the breast, esophagus, liver, mouth, throat or colon.
  • Depression.
  • Alcohol use disorder, such as alcoholism.

4. Alcohol-related deaths have more than doubled, especially among younger adults. Nearly 1 million people died from alcohol-related causes between 1999 and 2017, a National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) study shows.

Tips for cutting back

All of this underscores why you should practice drinking in moderation, if you choose to imbibe at all. And if you want to cut back on your drinking, the NIAAA offers these tips:

  • Keep track of how much you drink, such as by writing it down, if needed. Knowing the standard drink sizes helps you keep track.
  • Find other things to do besides drinking—perhaps a new hobby or fitness routine.
  • Try to stay away from people and places that make you want to drink.
  • If you usually drink at home, don't keep any alcohol on hand.
  • Practice saying "no thanks" if offered a drink. Preparing a response makes you less likely to give in.

Take a free drinking assessment

Could you have a toxic relationship with alcohol and not know it? Take this alcohol assessment to find out.

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