10 facts to know about alcohol + how to gauge your alcohol use

Couple Toasting Beer While Eating Takeaway Food

Did you know alcohol-related illness is the third leading cause of preventable death in the U.S.?

That fact is connected to how common alcohol is in our culture, says Dr. Judith Overton, a psychiatrist and medical director for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.

“Alcohol abuse is not new,” says Dr. Overton, “and most people accept drinking much more than drug use, so we don’t talk about it as often. But that’s exactly what can make it so dangerous.”

10 facts to know about alcohol

1. Alcohol is a depressant that affects every organ in the body. It reduces reaction time and decreases balance. It also dilates blood vessels, which causes a feeling of warmth but actually results in a rapid loss of body heat.

2. Carbonated drinks tend to speed up absorption of alcohol, as does drinking on an empty stomach.

3. Excessive alcohol use damages the liver, kidneys and brain. It worsens health conditions including osteoporosis, diabetes, stroke, memory loss, high blood pressure and mood disorders.

4. The following amounts of alcohol are considered excessive:

  • 14 drinks per week OR 4 drinks per day for men under 65
  • 7 drinks per week OR 3 drinks per day for women and adults 65+

5. People who use alcohol before age 15 are 6 times more likely to become alcohol dependent than adults who start drinking at age 21.

6. As we age, our ability to metabolize alcohol decreases. Older women are more sensitive than men to the effects of alcohol.

7. Alcohol can make medical problems harder to diagnose and treat. For example, alcohol may dull pain that could be a warning sign of a heart attack.

8. More than half of Americans who misuse prescription opioids also engage in binge drinking (5 drinks in 2 hours for men, or 4 drinks in 2 hours for women).

9. More than half of the deaths caused by alcohol are due to drinking too much over time. Those causes include various types of cancer, liver disease and heart disease.

10. In the U.S., excessive alcohol use is responsible for 261 deaths per day, or more than 95,000 deaths each year.

3 questions to help you gauge your alcohol use

If you think you might be misusing alcohol, Dr. Overton suggests asking yourself:

  1. Has someone who cared about you ever voiced concern about your drinking?
  2. Has there ever been a time you’ve regretted your decisions about alcohol consumption?
  3. Do you wake up often thinking, “I wish I hadn’t done that.”

“If those thoughts sound familiar, it couldn’t hurt to take a closer look at your alcohol use,” says Dr. Overton. “One easy way to start is an online assessment.”

More from Dr. Overton on WellTuned

Ashley Brantley

Ashley Brantley has been writing about food, culture and health for more than a decade, and has lived in three of Tennessee’s four major cities (Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville).

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Get more information about specific health terms, topics and conditions to better manage your health on bcbst.com. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also find tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the Managing Your Health tab.

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Ashley Brantley has been writing about food, culture and health for more than a decade, and has lived in three of Tennessee’s four major cities (Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville).