The Physical and Mental Effects of Alcohol Use
Alcohol use—especially excessive drinking—can result in harmful consequences to one’s health.1
This page will define excessive alcohol use, examine its many dangers, and provide options for alcohol addiction treatment.
What is Excessive Alcohol Use?
Excessive alcohol use includes:1
- Heavy drinking: For men, this involves consuming more than 4 drinks in one day or more than 14 drinks throughout a week. For women, this involves consuming more than 3 drinks in a day or more than 7 drinks throughout the week.
- Binge drinking: A pattern of alcohol consumption that brings your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 or more. For men, this usually results from consuming 5 or more drinks within a 2-hour time frame; for women, it is 4 or more drinks within a 2-hour window.
Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to chronic diseases and other serious problems, including cognitive deficiencies (problems with learning and memory) and mental health disorders, including alcohol use disorder.1
Risks and Effects of Alcohol Use
Immediate effects and consequences of excessive alcohol use may include:
- Slurred speech.2
- Experiencing blackouts (not remembering what happened while drinking).4
- Physical injuries and fatality. About 1 in 3 injuries treated at trauma centers are alcohol-related. Alcohol is involved in approximately 65% of falls that result in death, 29% of motor vehicle fatalities, 40% of fatal burn injuries, and 50% of fatal drownings and homicides.4
- Unsafe sex, which can lead to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and unintended pregnancies.4,5
- Alcohol poisoning (also known as alcohol overdose), which can result in loss of consciousness, seizures, and death.5
Excessive drinking over time may lead to health conditions, such as:4,5
- High blood pressure.
- Liver disease.
- Problems with employment or family members.6
- Heart disease.
- Mental health problems like depression or anxiety.6
- Neurological problems, such as alcohol-related dementia (ARD) or Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS).
- Certain cancers, such as esophagus, colon, breast, and rectal cancer.
- Developing alcohol addiction, clinically known as alcohol use disorder (AUD).
Alcohol poisoning, also referred to as alcohol overdose, occurs when an excessive amount of alcohol in the bloodstream begins to shut down vital functions of the brain, such as breathing, temperature control, and heart rate.8
It’s important that medical attention is given to someone who is experiencing alcohol poisoning.8
Common signs of alcohol poisoning include:8
- Loss of consciousness and difficulty waking up.
- Pale, clammy skin (may appear bluish)
- Slow heart rate.
- Irregular or slowed breathing (10 seconds or more in between each breath).
- Low body temperature.
- Delayed responses, such as no gag reflex, which can contribute to choking.
Signs of Alcohol Addiction
AUD—a behavioral health condition in which someone is unable to control their drinking despite it causing significant dysfunction or distress in someone’s life—must be diagnosed by a medical professional using the criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders-5th Edition (DSM-5). Exhibiting at least 2 of the following within a 12-month period would result in a positive diagnosis for AUD:2
- Consuming more alcohol or drinking over a longer period than originally intended
- Having a persistent desire or making several unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control alcohol use
- Spending significant amounts of time engaging in activities required to get alcohol, drink, or recover from the effects of alcohol
- Having strong urges (cravings) to drink
- Failing to fulfill major role obligations at school, home, or at work as a result of alcohol use
- Continuing to drink despite experiencing chronic social or interpersonal problems caused by alcohol use
- Abandoning or significantly reducing participation in important recreational, occupational, or social activities due to drinking
- Drinking in dangerous situations (e.g., driving drunk)
- Continuing to drink alcohol despite the knowledge it has caused or worsened physical or psychological problems
- Developing a tolerance to alcohol (need to increase the amount you drink to achieve intoxication or not achieving the desired effect with the same amount of alcohol)
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when abstaining or reducing alcohol use
AUD is diagnosed on a continuum of severity as follows:2
- Mild AUD: 2–3 of the above-mentioned symptoms are observed.
- Moderate AUD: There are 4–5 symptoms observed.
- Severe AUD: There are 6 or more symptoms observed.
Inpatient Alcohol Rehab in California
If you or someone you love is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, help is available. AUD can be managed through evidence-based treatment.9 Alcohol addiction is typically treated with behavioral therapies, peer support, and, if necessary, medically managed detox or medications for AUD.10,11
Upon admission, staff will work with you to customize a treatment plan that is specific to your unique needs and recovery goals. Knowledgeable and compassionate staff in each treatment setting employ evidence-based approaches designed to help you safely get sober and remain in long-term recovery.
Call to start the rehab admissions process. Our admissions navigators can explain how to use insurance to cover inpatient rehab or help you explore other ways to pay for rehab if you don’t have insurance.
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