What You Need to Know about Alcohol and Your Health
April is Alcohol Awareness Month. Founded by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), the goal is raising awareness of alcohol abuse and misuse.
Alcohol is woven into our culture. It’s a central part of celebrations, family gatherings, and socializing with friends. Enjoyed responsibly, most people suffer few negative effects of alcohol. But – and there’s always a but – not everyone tolerates alcohol the same way. And, few people seem to understand what constitutes “responsible” alcohol consumption.
Answering Common Questions about Alcohol
We went to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for the facts about alcohol.
What constitutes one drink?
The United States defines a serving as 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol. In practice, this looks like:
- Beer: 12 ounces with a 5 percent alcohol content
- Wine: 5 ounces with a 12 percent alcohol content
- Distilled spirits or liquor: 1.5 ounces at 80-proof or 40 percent alcohol content
- Malt liquor: 8 ounces with a 7 percent alcohol content
What is moderate drinking?
You often see recommendations for “moderate” drinking. For a man, this is two drinks per day (see what constitutes one drink above). For women, this is one drink.
Please note that this is not telling you how much you should drink. It is the maximum amount recommended per day for people who already drink.
What is binge drinking?
This is the most common form of excessive drinking. For women, this is more than four drinks in a single occasion. For men, it is more than five drinks.
What is heavy drinking?
Heavy drinking is any amount above the recommended maximum. For women, this is eight drinks per week and for men it is 15 drinks per week.
Is moderate drinking okay for everyone?
No. Some people should not drink at all. This includes:
- Anyone planning to drive or operate heavy equipment or machinery
- Anyone taking medications (prescription or over-the-counter) that interact with alcohol
- People unable to control their drinking
- People under the age of 21
- People with certain medical conditions (your doctor will tell you)
- Recovering alcoholics
- Women who are pregnant or nursing
How Alcohol Affects the Body
Everything you put into your body affects it, from the foods you eat to what you drink. We tend to think of the immediate effects – feeling tipsy, getting a headache, having a hangover. But, just as eating a fatty diet leads to clogged arteries over time, the cumulative effect of alcohol impacts your body in a variety of ways.
- Brain: Alcohol disrupts the way your brain communicates with your body. This may cause issues with coordination, cognitive function, or change your mood or behavior.
- Cancer: Excessive alcohol consumption raises your risk of a variety of cancers, including breast, esophagus, liver, mouth, and throat.
- Heart: Excessive drinking causes a variety of heart issues, including arrhythmias, cardiomyopathy, high blood pressure, and stroke.
- It’s true that research shows moderate drinking offers some protection against heart disease. However, excessive drinking nullifies those benefits.
- Immune system: Excess drinking weakens your immune system, lowering your resistance against disease and infection for up to 24 hours.
- Liver: Common liver problems include alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis, fibrosis, and steatosis (fatty liver).
- Pancreas: All alcohol consumption causes the pancreas to excrete a substance that may eventually cause pancreatitis.
Signs of Alcohol Misuse
Although understanding the impact of excessive drinking is important, it’s also important to note that most people who drink to excess are not alcoholics. It may not be good for you, but drinking too much does not necessarily mean that you have a drinking “problem.” If you’re worried about your alcohol use, or that of a family member, look for the following warning signs:
- A husky voice
- Bloody or tarry stools
- Chronic diarrhea
- Drinking alone, in secret, or at odd times of the day
- Feeling “bad” when not drinking, including anxiety, headaches, insomnia, and nausea
- Having flushed skin or broken capillaries on your face
- Irritability, depression, or mood swings
- Recurring arguments with family and friends
- Relying on alcohol to cheer up, relax, sleep, or handle problems
- Temporary blackouts or memory loss
- Trembling hands
Signs of Alcohol Addiction (Alcoholism)
The signs of addiction include:
- Building a tolerance to alcohol so you need to drink more to feel the same effects
- Engaging in risky behavior to get alcohol
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you don’t drink, including anxiety, trembling, sweating, headaches, nausea, vomiting, depression, insomnia, fatigue, and irritability
- Having a family history of addiction
- Hiding injuries or accidents that occur due to drinking
- Hiding the amount you drink
- Lack of control over when or how much you drink
- Neglecting work, friends, or family due to alcohol
- Relationship issues, particularly with those attempting to discuss your drinking with you
- Significant changes in appearance, including not bathing and wearing dirty clothes
- Spending less time on hobbies and other activities you used to enjoy
- Continuing to drink despite these problems
Medicare Covers Alcohol Misuse Screening and Counseling
Preventive screenings are covered annually for Part B beneficiaries who use alcohol and are not considered alcohol dependent. If your doctor determines you misuse alcohol, you get four counseling sessions per year in a primary care setting. You have no cost for this service if your provider accepts assignment.
Part B also covers outpatient mental health services for beneficiaries living with addiction. Your costs here include standard deductibles and possibly co-payments and co-insurance. Check your Medigap policy to see what coverage it offers. Or, call (844) 655-4347 and one of our licensed agents can answer your questions.