What Is Alcohol?

Alcohol is produced by the fermentation of sugar, yeast, and starches. The alcohol in alcoholic beverages, such as wine, beer, and liquor, is ethyl alcohol (ethanol). It is a central nervous suppressant and is known to affect every organ in the body.

When consumed, alcohol is absorbed by the stomach and small intestine and enters the bloodstream. It is metabolized (broken down) in the liver by enzymes.

Since the liver can only metabolize a small amount of alcohol at a time, the excess circulates throughout the body. The effect of alcohol on the body is dependent on how much is consumed.

Wine glasses and bottles
 Dan Porges + Getty Images

How Alcohol Impacts the Body

Alcohol consumption can produce both physical and neurological effects on the body - including impacts on the brain, heart, liver, gallbladder, and stomach.

The specific short- and long-term effects of alcohol on the body include

Short term:

  • Mood swings
  • Slow reflexes
  • Decreased coordination
  • Vomiting
  • Blackouts
  • Slurred speech
  • Issues with concentration
  • Distorted vision and hearing
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Changes in body temperature
  • Lowered inhibitions 

Long term:

Does Alcohol Have Health Benefits?

Although the health concerns of alcohol outweigh the benefits, studies have shown that red wine is a rich source of resveratrol. This is a natural antioxidant in the skin of some grapes.

The health benefits of antioxidants include improving damaged cells due to free radicals, reducing oxidative stress in the body, and more. If you would like to get resveratrol naturally through foods, some options include grapes, peanuts, cocoa, blueberries, cranberries, and bilberries.

Another study has shown that drinking red wine may help individuals with coronary heart disease. Epidemiological studies have supported that red wine is more coronary heart preventative in comparison to other alcoholic beverages.

There are also studies that show light to moderate consumption of red wine may increase "healthy" cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein [HDL]), and reduce cholesterol buildup.

Measuring Alcohol Consumption

Depending on the type of alcoholic drink and how much is in your glass or bottle, the total amount of alcohol consumed may vary. Different types of drinks (wine, beer, liquor) have a variety of alcoholic measurements.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, one “standard” drink in the United States contains approximately 14 grams of pure alcohol.

This calculates to:

  • 12 ounces of regular beer, which is usually about 5% alcohol
  • 5 ounces of wine, which is typically about 12% alcohol
  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits, which is about 40% alcohol

How Much Is Enough or Too Much?

If you are going to drink alcohol, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture, moderate consumption of alcohol is considered having one drink per day for women and up to two drinks for men. This is an amount that is consumed on any single day.

Heavy drinking is considered consuming 15 drinks or more throughout the week for men and eight drinks or more throughout the week for women. Binge drinking is considered consuming five or more drinks (male), or four or more drinks (female), in about two hours.

When to Get Help

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “Doctors diagnose alcohol use disorder when a patient's drinking causes distress or harm.”

Some signs that are a determining factor to get help include:

  • Continued drinking even though it is creating issues with work, home, or school
  • Drinking more or longer than planned
  • Wanting to cut back on drinking but can’t stop
  • Continuing to drink even though you have known health issues
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and activities due to drinking
  • Legal issues due to drinking

There are many dangerous risks that come with alcohol abuse. Alcohol is a factor in 40% of fatal motor vehicle crashes, fatal falls, and suicides, 50% of severe trauma injuries and sexual assaults, and 60% of fatal burn injuries, homicides, and drownings.

You can reduce your risk of alcohol injuries by choosing not to consume alcohol. If you do choose to drink, take the necessary precautions to stay safe. If you or someone you love has an issue with alcohol, contact your medical professional to get the proper help.

Who Should Avoid Alcohol?

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that individuals who do not drink alcohol should not start for any reason. There are certain individuals who should avoid alcohol completely.

Individuals who should avoid alcohol include but not limited to:

  • Plan to drive or operate machinery, or participate in activities that require skill, coordination, and alertness
  • Take certain over-the-counter or prescription medications
  • Have certain medical conditions
  • Are recovering from alcohol use disorder or are unable to control the amount that they drink
  •  Are younger than age 21
  •  Are pregnant or trying to become pregnant

A Word From Verywell

Alcohol can have dangerous consequences for your life, health, and loved ones. As many people consume alcohol at social gatherings, work functions, or at home, it is important to be mindful of the amount that you consume within a day, week, and month.

The ultimate goal is to stay of healthy mind, body, and soul. If you choose to consume alcohol, stay vigilant when consuming alcoholic drinks in any setting.

Alcohol abuse is serious and if you or a loved one is struggling with addiction or substance abuse, don’t hesitate to contact a healthcare professional or a professional organization that can offer appropriate help.

One organization is The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline. You can find more information, support, or an office in your area.

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Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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