What Is Alcohol?

Alcohol is produced by the fermentation of sugar, yeast, and starches. The alcohol in 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.

Signs of an Alcohol Use Disorder

Verywell / Theresa Chiechi

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.

There are both short- and long-term effects of alcohol on the body.

Short-term effects include:

  • 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 effects include:

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 cells damaged due to free radicals, reducing oxidative stress in the body, and more.

If you would like to get resveratrol through foods without consuming red wine, 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 high-density lipoprotein (HDL), so-called "good cholesterol," and reduce cholesterol buildup.

Measuring Alcohol Consumption

Depending on the type of alcoholic drink and how much is in your glass, 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 (NIAAA), one “standard” drink in the United States contains approximately 14 grams of pure alcohol.

Standard drinks include:

  • 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?

Per the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 and NIAAA:

 Consumption  Women  Men
 Moderate  1 drink/day  2 drinks/day
 Heavy  8 drinks/week  15 drinks/week
 Binge  >4 drinks/two hours  >5 drinks/two hours

When to Get Help

According to the NIAAA, “Doctors diagnose alcohol use disorder when a patient's drinking causes distress or harm.”

Some signs that are determining factors for getting 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 unable to 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 are not limited to, those who:

  • 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 abuse is serious. 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.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, runs a confidential, free hotline you can call for referrals to treatment centers, support groups, and community organizations. It is operated all-day, every day. Call 1-800-662-4357.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, dial 988 to contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and connect with a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

11 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.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alcohol questions and answers.

  2. Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health. Alcohol: Balancing risks and benefits.

  3. Piano MR. Alcohol's effects on the cardiovascular systemAlcohol Res. 2017;38(2):219-241.

  4. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol's effects on the body.

  5. Abu-Amero KK, Kondkar AA, Chalam KV. Resveratrol and ophthalmic diseasesNutrients. 2016;8(4):200. doi:10.3390/nu8040200

  6. Liberale L, Bonaventura A, Montecucco F, Dallegri F, Carbone F. Impact of red wine consumption on cardiovascular healthCurr Med Chem. 2019;26(19):3542-3566. doi:10.2174/0929867324666170518100606

  7. Castaldo L, Narváez A, Izzo L, et al. Red wine consumption and cardiovascular healthMolecules. 2019;24(19):3626. doi:10.3390/molecules24193626

  8. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). What is a standard drink?.

  9. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition.

  10. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Drinking levels defined.

  11. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism NIAAA. What are symptoms of alcohol use disorder?

By Yvelette Stines
Yvelette Stines, MS, MEd, is an author, writer, and communications specialist specializing in health and wellness.