What you need to know about drinking alcohol

How can you drink alcohol and avoid unnecessary health risks? The answer is simple: drink in moderation. Moderate alcohol consumption, otherwise known as low-risk drinking, is defined as having up to one standard drink, 0.6 fluid ounces of 14 grams of pure alcohol per day for women and two standard drinks per day for men, according to Dietary Guidelines for Americans. A standard drink is equivalent to a 12-ounce serving of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits. Consuming more than three drinks per day for women and more than four drinks per day for men is considered heavy drinking.

How exactly does alcohol affect your health? If you keep up with all the new studies, you might find yourself confused. Are there benefits to drinking alcohol, or should it be avoided at all costs? Let’s get to the bottom of this matter once and for all.

Moderate drinking can play a role in maintaining a healthy weight and a healthy heart as it can reduce weight gain and the risk of heart disease. Choosing wine instead of beer or other high-calorie alcoholic beverages can help with weight loss. As for your heart health, some studies also show alcohol consumption can increase the production of good cholesterol.

While some benefits of moderate alcohol consumption may exist, you can’t ignore the dark side of drinking alcohol. The risks are mostly related to heavier alcohol consumption.

According to the American Cancer Society, alcohol consumption is a risk factor for a variety of cancers including mouth, throat, colon, breast and liver. Even moderate alcohol consumption is linked to a 20% increased risk of mouth and throat cancer. Bear in mind, the cancer risk increases the more you consume.

Heavy drinking is linked to a variety of additional physical and mental health consequences. Chronic alcohol abuse can cause permanent changes in the brain and the liver, increasing risk for dementia, causing brain shrinkage in adults and leading to a serious condition known as cirrhosis of the liver. Heavy use increases risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity. It is also related to causing and worsening depression.

There’s little harm in enjoying a glass of wine with dinner, but you can protect your health and avoid unnecessary consequences by limiting your consumption. Heavy alcohol consumption can lead to alcohol dependence or addiction; therefore, drinking in moderation is key if you choose to drink at all.

 Lauren Evelsizer is a licensed clinical professional counselor for Addiction Services at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, Ill. 

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