Alcohol use disorder can harm your mind and body and create long-term consequences in many aspects of your life, including your relationships and career. Long-term alcohol use or misuse can lead to alcohol addiction or dependence. In this article, you’ll learn more about the risks of drinking and how to get help for yourself or a loved one.
Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is the clinical term used to describe a chronic health disease marked by not being able to stop drinking despite negative outcomes to your health, work, and relationships.1 Alcohol abuse, alcohol addiction, and the outdated term “alcoholism” are all common terms often used to refer to alcohol use disorder. 1
AUD risk factors include: 1,2
Binge drinking is defined as having a certain number of standard drinks in about 2 hours:10
Heavy drinking means having:10
A standard drink is 1.5 ounces of liquor, 5 ounces of wine, 8 ounces of malt liquor, or 12 ounces of beer.6
Drinking alcohol in moderation may make you feel relaxed but drinking too much alcohol at once may also harm your health.3 Some common short-term effects of alcohol include:4,6
Drinking too much alcohol in a short time period can lead to an alcohol overdose.5 Alcohol overdose happens when there is so much alcohol in the bloodstream, that it affects areas in the brain that control basic life support functions such as breathing, heart rate and body temperature.5 This can lead to permanent brain damage and even death.5 Your risk of overdose depends on many factors such as age, gender, medicines you’re taking, how much food you’ve eaten, and the rate and type of alcohol you had.5
Heavy drinking can also damage your health over time. Some of the health effects of long-term alcohol use include:3,4,6
Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can lead to fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs).11 FASDs can cause lifelong physical, behavioral, and intellectual problems for your baby.11 Drinking during pregnancy also increases the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDs).13 Because of these risks, the U.S. Surgeon General advises against drinking any alcohol if you are pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant.12
Long-term alcohol use can lead to alcohol dependence. Alcohol dependence is when the brain gets used to alcohol over time and as a result, the brain and body need alcohol to function.8 If you’re physically dependent on alcohol and suddenly cut back on or quit drinking, you may have withdrawal symptoms.8 Alcohol withdrawal symptoms include: 8,9
Withdrawal symptoms can vary depending on how long you’ve been drinking, how much you drink, and other factors.8 Without treatment, alcohol withdrawal can lead to seizures and even death.8 It’s important to talk to a doctor if you’re ready to quit drinking, as they can help you find treatment that will fit your needs while keeping you as safe as possible from harmful withdrawal symptoms.8
Alcohol withdrawal can be uncomfortable and may have some serious health risks, but you don’t have to go through it alone. Medical detox can help ease your withdrawal symptoms and keep you safe.9 The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) advises inpatient detox or some other form of 24-hour medical care to ensure your safety while you detox from alcohol.9
If you or someone you love is dealing with the discomfort of alcohol withdrawal, treatment can help. American Addiction Centers has treatment centers across the country that offer medical detox and withdrawal management. Or call our 24/7 helpline at 1-888-509-8965 Who Answers? to talk to an admissions navigator and begin life-changing treatment.