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Alcohol use: If you drink, keep it moderate
When to avoid alcohol use
Keep in mind that moderate use of alcohol doesn't mean that using alcohol is risk-free. For example, if you binge drink — such as having four or five drinks in the space of a few hours — you face serious health problems. Likewise if you drink and drive.
Here are other situations in which the risks of alcohol use may outweigh possible health benefits:
- You're pregnant or trying to become pregnant
- You take medications that can interact with alcohol
- You've had a previous hemorrhagic stroke
- You've been diagnosed with alcoholism or alcohol abuse
- You have liver or pancreatic disease
- You have heart failure or you've been told you have a weak heart or dilated cardiomyopathy
- You're planning to drive a vehicle or operate machinery
Some situations are less clear-cut. Use alcohol only with great care and after consulting your doctor if:
- You have a family history of alcoholism
- You take prescription medications for a health problem
- You use over-the-counter pain relievers or fever reducers
- You have a family history of breast cancer
- You have precancerous changes in your esophagus, larynx, pharynx or mouth
Consequences of heavy alcohol use
Although moderate alcohol use may offer some health benefits, heavy drinking — including binge drinking — has no health benefits. Excessive drinking can cause potentially serious health problems, including:
- Certain cancers, including breast cancer and cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus and liver
- Sudden death if you already have cardiovascular disease
- Heart muscle damage (alcoholic cardiomyopathy) leading to heart failure
- High blood pressure
- Cirrhosis of the liver
- Accidental serious injury or death
- Fetal alcohol syndrome and other health problems in an unborn child
Drink alcohol only in moderation — or not at all
The latest dietary guidelines make it clear that no one should begin drinking or drink more frequently on the basis of potential health benefits. So don't feel pressured to drink alcohol. But if you do drink alcohol and you're healthy, there's probably no need to stop as long as you drink responsibly and in moderation.Previous page
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- Tangney CC, et al. Cardiovascular benefits and risks of moderate alcohol consumption. http://www.uptodate.com/home/index.html. Accessed Feb. 21, 2011.
- Mukamal KJ, et al. A 42-year-old man considering whether to drink alcohol for his health. JAMA. 2010;303:2065.
- FAQ for the general public. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/FAQs/General-English/default.htm. Accessed Feb. 21, 2011.
- Kloner RA, et al. To drink or not to drink? That is the question. Circulation. 2007;116:1306.
- O'Keefe JA, et al. Alcohol and cardiovascular health. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2007;50:1009.
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/DGAs2010-PolicyDocument.htm. Accessed Feb. 21, 2011.
- Sheps SG (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Feb. 21, 2011.
- Grogan M (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Feb. 21, 2011.