Q: What is a safe level of drinking?
A:The Dietary Guidelines define moderate drinking as no more than one drink a day for women and no more than two drinks a day for men.
The Dietary Guidelines point out that drinking more than one drink per day for women can increase the risk for motor vehicle crashes, other injuries, high blood pressure, stroke, violence, suicide, and certain types of cancer.
Some people should not drink at all, including:
- Anyone under age 21
- People of any age who are unable to restrict their drinking to moderate levels
- Women who may become pregnant or who are pregnant
- People who plan to drive, operate machinery, or take part in other activities that require attention, skill, or coordination
- People taking prescription or over-the-counter medications that can interact with alcohol.
Q: What are the warning signs of alcoholism?
A: Answering the following four questions can help you find out if you or someone close to you has a drinking problem.
- Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?
- Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
- Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking?
- Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover?
One “yes” answer suggests a possible alcohol problem. If you responded “yes” to more than one question, it is very likely that you have a problem with alcohol. In either case, it is important that you see your health care provider right away to discuss your responses to these questions.
Q: Does alcohol affect women differently?
A: An estimated 5.3 million women in the United States drink in a way that threatens their health, safety, and general well-being. A strong case can be made that heavy drinking is more risky for women than men:
Heavy drinking increases a woman’s risk of becoming a victim of violence and sexual assault.
Drinking over the long term is more likely to damage a woman’s health than a man’s, even if the woman has been drinking less alcohol or for a shorter length of time than the man.
The health effects of alcohol abuse and alcoholism are serious. Some specific health problems include:
Alcoholic liver disease: Women are more likely than men to develop alcoholic hepatitis (liver inflammation) and to die from cirrhosis.
Brain disease: Most alcoholics have some loss of mental function, reduced brain size, and changes in the function of brain cells. Research suggests that women are more vulnerable than men to alcohol-induced brain damage.
Cancer: Many studies report that heavy drinking increases the risk of breast cancer. Alcohol also is linked to cancers of the digestive track and of the head and neck (the risk is especially high in smokers who also drink heavily).
Heart disease: Chronic heavy drinking is a leading cause of cardiovascular disease. Among heavy drinkers, women are more susceptible to alcohol-related heart disease, even though women drink less alcohol over a lifetime than men.
Finally, many alcoholics smoke; smoking in itself can cause serious long-term health consequences.
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