Alcohol consumption

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Alcohol consumption








Parental concerns



Alcohol consumption is drinking beer, wine, or distilled spirits such as gin, whiskey, or vodka, that contains ethyl alcohol.

Calories in alcohol

BeverageServing amount (ounce)Average(calories)
Distilled (80 proof)  
Gin, rum, vodka,whisky, tequila1.065
Brandy, cognac1.065
Liqueurs (Drambuie,Cointreau, Kahlua)1.5188
Dry white475
Vermouth, sweet3140
Vermouth, dry3105
Whiskey sour3122
Margarita cocktail6150

source: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

(Illustration by GGS Information Services/Thomson Gale.)


In earlier times, when subsistence agriculture was the norm, alcoholic beverages, usually beer or mead (fermented honey and water ), provided a substantial percentage of calories in the diet. Today people drink alcohol to relax and socialize, to get high, or because they are physically addicted to it.


Ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, is produced by yeast fermentation of the natural sugars in plants, such as grapes (wine), hops (beer), sugar cane (rum), agave (tequila), or rice (saki). The process of fermenting plants to produce alcohol is at least 10,000 years old and appears to have developed independently in many cultures

Alcohol affects almost every system of the body. Research suggests that when alcohol is consumed in moderation, there are some health benefits and some health risks. Heavy use of alcohol has no health benefits and many health risks. The federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005. define moderate alcohol consumption as one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. This difference by gender is because women tend to be smaller than men, and their bodies contain a lower percentage of water, so an equivalent amount of alcohol in a woman’s bloodstream will be more concentrated than in a man’s. A “drink” according to these guidelines contains about 14 grams of alcohol and is defined as:

  • 12 fluid ounces of regular beer
  • 5 fluid ounces of wine
  • 1.5 fluid ounces of 80 proof distilled spirits

Using this definition, one regular beer contains about 145 calories. One glass of red wine has 105 calories, and white wine has about 100 calories. One shot of distilled spirits has about 95 calories plus any calories in the mixer used mixed drinks.

Benefits of moderate alcohol consumption

Good evidence based on more than 100 studies shows that moderate alcohol consumption can help prevent heart attack, sudden cardiac death, peripheral vascular disease, and stroke caused by blood clots (ischemic stroke). The risk of these diseases is reduced between 25% and 40% in both men and women. The reduction is seen in both people who have no apparent heart disease and those who are at high risk of heart disease because they have type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), angina (chest pain), or have already had one heart attack. Researchers suggest that this protective effect occurs because alcohol increases the amount of HDL or “good” cholesterol and also affects various proteins in ways that make blood clotting less likely.

In two other large studies, people who were moderate drinkers also were less likely to develop type 2 diabetes and gallstones. Gallstones are hard masses of cholesterol and calcium that form in the gallbladder. Finally, moderate drinking serves a social purpose that can provide psychological benefits.

Risks of moderate alcohol consumption

Moderate alcohol consumption also carries with it some risks. In women, even moderate drinking is associated with a modest increase in the risk of developing breast cancer. However, researchers suggest that taking at least 600 mg of folic acid daily will counteract this increased risk.

Even moderate alcohol consumption by a pregnant woman can damage the developing fetus. Alcohol consumption can also alter sleep patterns and interact with many medications (see Interactions below). However, by far the greatest risk of moderate


B-complex vitamins— a group of water-soluble vitamins that often work together in the body. These include thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), biotin (B7 or vitamin H), folate/folic acid (B9), and cobalamin (B12).

Essential amino acid an amino acid that is necessary for health but that cannot be made by the body and must be acquired through diet.

Folic acid also called vitamin B9, a stable synthetic form of folate that is found in dietary supplements and is added to fortified foods such as flour and cereal.

Mineral— an inorganic substance found in the earth that is necessary in small quantities for the body to maintain a health. Examples: zinc, copper, iron.

Peripheral vascular disease— diseases of any blood vessels except those that supply blood to the heart.

Tolerance— adjustment of the body to a drug so that it takes more and more to produce the same physiological or psychological effect.

Type 2 diabetes sometime called adult-onset diabetes, this disease prevents the body from properly using glucose (sugar).Vitamin—a nutrient that the body needs in small amounts to remain healthy but that the body cannot manufacture for itself and must acquire through diet

drinking is that for some people it will lead to heavy alcohol consumption, alcohol abuse, and alcohol dependency. Twin and family studies indicated that there is an inherited tendency for some individuals to develop alcohol abuse disorders.

Risks of heavy alcohol consumption

Heavy alcohol consumption is defined for men as consuming 15 or more alcoholic drinks per week and for women as consuming 8 or more drinks per week. Between moderate and heavy alcohol consumption is a gray area of potentially problem drinking that includes binge drinking.

Binge drinking is heavy alcohol consumption that occurs intermittently. Bingeing for men means consuming 5 or more drinks in a period of about twohours. For women, it is consuming 4 or more drinks in the same time period. About 60% of men ages 18–25 binge drink.

Heavy alcohol consumption leads to two alcohol abuse disorders that are recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders Fourth Edition (DSM-IV-TR) published by the American Psychiatric Association. More men abuse alcohol than women, and these men begin drinking at an earlier age than women.

Alcohol dependence is diagnosed when one or more of the following occur within a 12-month period.

  • Repeated alcohol use causes failure to fulfill obligations at work, home, or school.
  • The individual repeatedly performs hazardous activities such as driving or operating machinery while under the influence of alcohol.
  • Alcohol use causes legal problems.
  • Alcohol use continues despite problems it causes in relationships.
  • These symptoms do not rise to the level of alcohol dependence.

Alcohol abuse, or alcoholism, is diagnosed when three or more of the following occur within a 12- month period

  • Tolerance to the effects of alcohol develops.
  • Stopping drinking causes, or would cause, physical symptoms of withdrawal.
  • More alcohol is regularly drunk than is intended.
  • Efforts to reduce alcohol consumption are unsuccessful.
  • Getting alcohol, drinking, and recovering from drinking alcohol consumes a great deal of time.
  • Work, social, and recreational activities are replaced by drinking or recovering from drinking.
  • Alcohol use continues despite its causing obvious physical and/or psychological problems.

On any given day, about 7% of Americans, or more than 17 million people, are alcohol dependent or have alcoholism. Costs related to alcohol disorders are estimated to be more than $185 billion annually. Alcohol disorders are related to increased rates of motor vehicle deaths, homicides, suicides, and domestic violence. About 34% of Americans never drink alcohol.

People with alcoholism do not eat healthy, balanced diets. When 30% or more of an individual’s calories come from alcohol, serious nutritional deficiencies develop. Not only do people with alcoholism fail to get the protein, vitamins, and minerals they need, alcohol interferes with the absorption of the nutrients they do eat. People who abuse alcohol develop malnutrition and deficiencies in essential amino acids, B-complex vitamins (especially vitamins B1, B2, and B6), and vitamin C They may develop either deficiencies or excesses of vitamin A. Along with nutritional deficiencies, the person with alcoholism often has liver damage. Cirrhosis, a disease in which the liver develops scar tissue and stops functioning, is the cause of death in about 32% of people with alcoholism worldwide. Alcoholism also substantially increases the chance of dying by violence or developing esophageal cancer, mouth cancer, and liver cancer or breast cancer in women. Heavy drinking increases the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease and can cause brain damage, loss ofjudgment, loss of motor skills, and memory loss.


Some people who should never drink alcohol. These include:

  • children and adolescents under age 21
  • women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or who could become pregnant
  • people who cannot control their drinking and keep it at the level of moderate consumption
  • people who plan to drive, fly a plane, operate dangerous equipment, act as a lifeguard, or perform any activity that requires quick reactions, good judgment, and coordination
  • people who are unable to control their aggression when they drink
  • people taking certain medications (see below)
  • people with liver or kidney damage
  • people who are recovering from alcoholism


Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. More than 150 drugs interact with alcohol. Some of these interactions can be fatal, especially those that involve narcotic drugs that also depress the central nervous system. Categories of drugs that interact with alcohol include:

  • narcotic drugs
  • sleeping pills
  • antidepressants
  • anti-anxiety medications
  • antihistamines


The best-known treatment for alcohol abuse disorders is the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous. This program uses social support, rewards, and mentoring to change behavior. For it to succeed, the person with alcoholism must want to recover and must be willing to work at achieving sobriety. Relapses are common. Families of alcoholics may be helped by Al-Non and teens by Alateen, whether or not their family member with alcoholism participates in Alcoholics Anonymous.

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved three medications for the treatment of alcoholism. Disulfiram (Antabuse) makes the individual feel ill after drinking alcohol. Naltrexone (Depade, ReVia) act on the brain to reduce the craving for alcohol, and acamprosate (Canpral) reduces withdrawal symptoms. These medications are more effective with some people than others.


Complications of moderate and heavy alcohol abuse are listed above. In addition to physical complications, alcohol consumption can take an emotional and psychological toll on relationships and families, especially on children who have a parent with alcoholism.

Parental concerns

Alcohol consumption by adolescents substantially increases their risk of being in both fatal and nonfatal motor vehicle accidents. It also increases the chance of participating in risky sexual behavior, failing or dropping out of school, committing suicide, and being a homicide victim. Children who begin to drink before age 15 are four times more likely to develop alcoholism than people who begin drinking at age 21.



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American Dietetic Association. 120 South Riverside Plaza, Suite 2000, Chicago, Illinois 60606-6995. Telephone: (800) 877-1600. Website: <>

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 1600 Clifton Road, Atlanta, GA. 30333. Telephone: (800) 311-3435 or (404) 639-3534. Website: <>

Linus Pauling Institute. Oregon State University, 571 Weniger Hall, Corvallis, OR 97331-6512. Telephone: (541) 717-5075. Fax: (541) 737-5077. Website: <>

National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD). 22 Cortlandt Street, Suite 801, New York, NY 10007-3128. Telephone: (212) 269-7797. Fax: (212)

269-7510.HOPELINE: (800) NCA-CALL (24-hour Affiliate referral). Website: <>

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. 635 Fishers Lane, MSC 9304, Bethesda, MD 20892-9304. Telephone: (301) 443-3860. Website: <>.


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Tish Davidson, A.M.

Algae seeSpirulina

Alpha-tocopherol seeVitamin E

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Alcohol consumption

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Alcohol consumption