What is alcohol used for?

What’s the difference between drinking in moderation and having a drinking problem? Here we review the definitions of each. We also talk about potential benefits of moderate alcohol consumption, as well as the consequences of chronic, long-term, or binge drinking. Learn how alcohol can be used to benefit or harm you.

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Moderation or a Drinking Problem?

Alcohol can be used in different areas of our lives, but is most often consumed socially. Using alcohol in moderation has many benefits. What is moderation? Basically, moderation is drinking no more than one drink per day for women, and no more than two drinks a day for men.

But, what are the medical benefits of moderate alcohol consumption? And, when does drinking become a problem? We explore the positive outcomes of moderate alcohol consumption as well as the side effects of drinking too much here. At the end, we welcome your questions. In fact, we try to respond personally and promptly to all legitimate inquiries.

Alcohol uses

Numerous well-designed studies have concluded that moderate drinking is associated with health benefits, especially for the heart. Further, moderate alcohol consumption may:

  • Add a few years to your life.
  • Decrease chances of developing dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease).
  • Help with prevention against the common cold.
  • Improve the libido (protect against erectile dysfunction).
  • Lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Lower the chance of developing Type 2 Diabetes.
  • Reduce the risk of gallstones.

In addition to having fewer heart attacks and strokes, moderate consumers of alcoholic beverages are generally less likely to suffer strokes, diabetes, arthritis, enlarged prostate, and several major cancers (kidney cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Hodgking’s lymphoma, or thyroid cancer).

When to avoid drinking

In certain situations, the risks of alcohol use may outweigh the possible health benefits. Medical professionals advise alcohol use to be avoided in the following cases:

  • In case you are pregnant or trying to conceive
  • In case you are taking other prescription or over-the-counter medications that interact with alcohol.
  • If you have suffered a hemorrhagic stroke.
  • If you have a family history of alcoholism.
  • If you have been diagnosed with alcoholism or alcohol use dissorder.
  • If you have a liver or pancreatic disease.
  • In case you have suffered a heart failure or have a weak heart.
  • When you need to drive a motor vehicle or operate machinery.

Top 10 negative side effects of alcohol

Depending on how much you drink and your physical condition, alcohol can cause have a negative impact on your health and other areas of life. Binge drinking and chronic alcohol use in large amounts is associated with numerous health problems. Here is a top 10 list of possible side effects from excessive alcohol drinking:

  • accidental serious injury or death
  • alcohol withdrawal syndrome
  • alcoholic cardiomyophaty and heart failure
  • development and health problems in unborn babies
  • cancers (breast, mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophaqus)
  • liver disease, cirosis, fibrosis
  • pancreatitis
  • stroke
  • sudden death in people with cardiovascular disease

Illegal alcohol use

Alcohol laws help regulate the manufacturing, importing, use, influence and sale of ethanol (ethyl alcohol, EtOH) or alcoholic beverages that contain ethanol. Here are a few examples when alcohol use is illegal and can be sanctioned under the law.

1. As of 2009, all U.S. States have a minimum purchase age of 21.

2. There are legal consequences for adults who help minors obtain alcohol. A popular way for minors to attempt to get alcohol is the method of “shoulder tap”, also known as a “Hey Mister”.

3. Most states don’t allow brewing more than 100 US gallons (380 L) of beer per adult per year OR more than the maximum 200 US gallons (760 L) per household annually, given that there are two or more adults residing in the household. Additionally, homebrewers are restricted from selling any beer they brew.

4. Drunken driving is illegal in all jurisdictions within the USA, though enforcement varies widely between and within states/territories.

5. Selling alcoholic beverages is banned in some counties and municipalities in the U.S., these are so called “dry communities”. The states of Kansas, Mississippi and Tennessee are completely dry. In addition, 33 states have laws which allow localities to prohibit the sale, and in some cases, consumption and possession of liquor.

6. The existence of open containers of alcohol in public places is prohibited in the U.S. In this context, alcohol consumption is prohibited in open public places such as, sidewalks, parks and vehicles, and it does not include nominally private spaces.

7. Alcohol exclusion laws permit insurance companies to deny claims associated with the consumption of alcohol. The alcohol exclusion laws were passed in the 1940’s to discourage people from drinking alcohol and to save insurance companies money from alcohol-related claims.

How to screen for drinking problems

Q: How can you determine if you have a problem with alcohol?
A: Screening questionnaires are useful for detecting Alcohol use disorder (AUD).

However, screening questionnaires are not intended to establish a diagnosis. Rather, they identify people who should be further assessed by their clinician to determine if alcohol is a problem for them, and if they need treatment. Healthcare providers have a list of three key leads that can be red flags for drinking issues:

  1. Have you lost control of your drinking?
  2. Have you developed tolerance or other signs of addiction?
  3. Has alcohol contributed to job loss, legal problems, or relationship problems?

If you answer, “Yes,” to any of these questions, it can help to seek more answers via a specialist. People who work to clinically diagnose drinking problems include:

  • A Medical Doctor with a specialty in Addiction Medicine
  • Psychiatrist
  • Licensed Clinical Psychologist
  • Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Once diagnosed, it helps to seek immediate medical treatment. This is because early intervention leads to best outcomes. In other words, the earlier you catch and treat a drinking problem, the more likely you are to be able to cut down or quit drinking entirely.

To treat alcohol problems, a person can choose to go to rehab, rely on self-help programs, get therapy, or take a self-directed treatment approach. Regardless of the approach a drinker chooses, support is essential. Recovering from alcohol addiction is much easier when there are people you can lean on for encouragement, comfort, and guidance. This is why so many people attend 12 Step groups. Still, support can come from family members, friends, counselors, other recovering alcoholics, your healthcare providers, and people from your faith community.

Alcohol use questions

Do you have anything you’d like to ask or add? Feel free to send us your questions and feedback via the comments section below. We try to answer personally to all legitimate inquiries ASAP. In case we don’t know the answer to your question, we will gladly point you to professionals who can help.

Reference Sources: MedlinePlus: Alcohol use and safe drinking
MAYO CLINIC: Alcohol use: If you drink, keep it moderate
U.S. Department of Justice: Drinking in America: Myths, Realities and Prevention Policy
NCBI: Cover of The Surgeon General’s Call to Action To Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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