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Alcoholic drinks — like beer, wine, and liquor — can be harmful to your health, especially if you drink a lot.

In the U.S. one alcoholic “drink” means:

  • 12 ounces of beer

  • 8 ounces of malt liquor

  • 5 ounces of wine

  • 1.5 ounces of liquor (like vodka, whiskey, brandy, rum, or gin)

Moderate drinking means having up to 1 drink per day for women, and 2 drinks per day for men. Heavy drinking means having 8 or more drinks per week for women, and 15 or more drinks per week for men. And binge drinking means having multiple drinks in one sitting: 4 or more for women and 5 or more for men. If you’re over 21 years-old and are going to drink, moderate drinking is safest.

Avoid alcohol entirely if you’re:

  • Younger than 21 (in the U.S. it’s against the law to drink alcohol if you’re younger than 21)

  • Pregnant or think you might be pregnant

  • Going to be driving, operating machinery, or in any situation where you need to be alert and able to keep yourself and others safe

  • Taking any medicine that can interact with alcohol

  • Have certain medical problems

  • In recovery for alcoholism or not able to control how much you drink

What are the effects of alcohol on the body?

People’s bodies react differently to alcohol. Your age, sex, race/ethnicity, weight, physical health, and family history with alcohol can impact the way alcohol affects you. Your experience can also vary depending on how much you drink, how fast you drink, and how much food you eat while drinking.

Having too much alcohol can be dangerous. Short term consequences of too much alcohol include an increased risk of alcohol poisoning (when there’s too much alcohol in the body and basic functions shut down), injuries (like car accidents, falling, drowning, or gun injuries), and violence (like murder, suicide, and intimate partner violence). You may also be more likely to make sexual decisions that put you at risk for STDs or unintended pregnancy, like having unprotected sex.

Long term effects of too much alcohol include an increased risk of health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, liver disease, pancreatitis, and stomach problems. It can also lead to breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon cancers. Too much alcohol is linked to mental health issues like depression and anxiety, and memory or learning problems.

Underage drinking is especially dangerous. Research shows that injury and death are more likely to happen when teenagers and young adults use alcohol. And people who start drinking before age 15 are more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder than people who begin drinking after age 21.

What happens if I drink during my pregnancy?

Drinking alcohol when you’re pregnant can expose your fetus to alcohol and has been linked to miscarriage, stillbirth, and low birth weight. It can also lead to fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), which can include a range of physical issues (like vision or hearing problems, small head size, low body weight/height, or heart/kidney/bone problems), and behavioral issues (like learning disabilities, speech delays, or being hyperactive).

If you’re pregnant, it’s never too late to stop drinking — but the sooner you do, the better. If you’re having a hard time quitting, talk with your nurse or doctor for help.

Is it safe to drink if I’m breastfeeding?

It’s safest to not drink alcohol at all if you’re breastfeeding. Having up to 1 drink per day and waiting at least 2 hours before nursing isn’t known to be harmful to your baby. But having more than 1 drink per day is not recommended. If your baby is exposed to higher levels of alcohol, it can be harmful to their growth and sleep.

How do I know if I have a drinking problem?

If alcohol is affecting your relationships or responsibilities, or you can’t stop yourself from drinking, then it may be a problem. Talk with a nurse, doctor, or mental health professional about ways to help control or stop your drinking. Depending on how much alcohol you usually drink, quitting all at once may cause alcohol withdrawal, which can be dangerous. A nurse or doctor can help you stop drinking safely.

Some Planned Parenthood health centers may be able to help you figure out if you have a problem with alcohol, and connect you to resources in your area. You can also call 1-800-662-HELP, or go to SAMHSA to find help near you.