Across the U.S., drinking culture has made consuming alcohol a normal part of our everyday lives. Whether happy hours with coworkers, a glass of wine with dinner, a beer or two to take the edge off of a long day, or late-night partying with friends—enjoying adult beverages is a proverbial rite of passage amongst Americans.
To put things into perspective, in 2018, about 139.8 million Americans aged 12 or older drank alcohol in the past month according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).1 The same study estimated that in the month prior to surveying, 67.1 million engaged in binge drinking and 16.6 million were heavy drinkers.1 Binge drinking is defined as 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men in about 2 hours, or a pattern of drinking that bring a person’s BAC levels to 0.08 g/dL.2 Heavy drinking is binge drinking on 5 or more days in the past month.2
But how harmful can a few drinks be, right? Who are you really harming by having some fun on the weekends? While isolated occurrences of moderate drinking might not be overtly harmful, over time a person’s drinking behaviors could become more problematic, and could lead to the development of alcohol dependence and, ultimately, addiction. In 2018, an estimated 14.8 million people were diagnosed with alcohol use disorders (AUD), yet only around 4.6% of them sought treatment.1
These stats show a clear need for an awareness surrounding the dangers of drinking alcohol regularly. Regardless of how much you consume, drinking any amount of alcohol doesn’t come without its fair share of problems. Over the years, research has shown us that consuming alcohol has negative effects on our physical and mental health, relationships, finances, and careers. And the more we use, the more we put ourselves at risk for more serious issues in the future.
Read more below about how alcohol abuse can affect all aspects of your life:
Your Mental & Physical Health
Even if you’re not abusing alcohol regularly, you can still experience short- and long-term health effects. Among the more common short-term effects, individuals can experience symptoms such as skin flushing; lowered inhibitions; mood swings; loss of coordination, concentration, and critical judgment; raised core body temperature; passing out; and vomiting.3,4 It can also lead to lowered inhibitions and poor judgment which could both increase the likelihood of violence, drunk driving, or unprotected sex.3,4
In chronic, heavy drinkers, long-term effects on the body can include a range of liver diseases including alcoholic hepatitis, fatty liver, hepatic fibrosis, a progressive scarring of the liver known as cirrhosis, and liver cancer.5,6,7 In terms of your cardiovascular health, consuming too much alcohol is linked to irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, blood clots, alcoholic cardiomyopathy (sagging, stretched heart muscle), and an increased risk of stroke or heart attack.5,8
Alcohol consumption can also lead to nutritional deficiencies by altering nutrient breakdown, absorption, transportation, storage, and excretion.9 One example of this is the development of a thiamine deficiency, which can lead to serious neurological issues such as impaired movement and memory loss seen in Wernicke/Korsakoff syndrome.9
Additionally, heavy alcohol use can affect certain brain functions and alter various brain chemical and hormonal systems which can manifest in a broad range of psychiatric symptoms and signs.10 Those struggling with alcoholism may be at an increased risk of developing or worsening co-occurring mental health illnesses such as major depression, some anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia, among others.11
Read more about the full effects that alcohol consumption can have on your mind and body.
Relationships With Family and Friends
Alcohol abuse can affect more than just the person drinking it. It can be detrimental to your relationships with friends, family members, coworkers and anyone else you meet as you go through your daily life. As alcohol abuse progresses, you may begin to withdraw from society or get easily upset at acquaintances if the amount or frequency of your use is brought up.
You may also begin suffering from mood swings or have trouble concentrating, which could lead to getting agitated more quickly. When this occurs, it can affect the people you are around, especially if you’re romantically involved with someone. Your significant other may also try and make up excuses for your drinking or improper conduct at social functions. This can be a heavy burden for them to carry and may place a distance between their friends and family as well.
Marriages may also begin to feel the weight of a husband or wife’s alcohol abuse issues. Those suffering from alcoholism may begin overspending family budgets to pay for alcohol, start arguments with their spouse when sobriety is discussed, or even get into physical altercations with them.
It may also begin to affect children as they may experience neglect or physical or emotional abuse from a parent struggling with alcoholism. This can range from missed events, such as soccer games or birthday parties, to verbal or physical violence at home. Family members dealing with alcoholism may also be less fully present in their day-to-day due to frequent hangovers or other adverse effects that may cause them to disengage.
Read more about how alcoholism can affect relationships with your friends and family.
Creating Financial Burdens
Americans spent around $249 billion on alcohol in 2010 which breaks down to roughly $807/year per person, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).12 However, binge drinkers and heavy alcohol users consume considerably more drinks per day than the average consumer; so that number is likely much higher for them.
Online tools such as an alcohol spending calculator can be helpful in seeing how much you may be spending by drinking daily. For example, if you drink 7 days a week and 5-6 beers a day at around $24 for a 12 pack of domestic beer, you’d be spending around $120 on beer alone in a week. Or $480 a month and $5,760 a year—which would not even account for the times you go out and drink at bars and restaurants.
The amount you could be saving each year by not drinking could mean a new car, vacation with your loved ones, or a safety net used for unexpected expenses in the future.
Further, anyone caught drinking and driving may be charged with a DUI which can result in additional financial burden. Although fees vary state-by-state, the costs associated with a DUI typically include fees for bail, attorneys, court fines, court-mandated classes, and public transportation due to the loss of a license or vehicle.
You’ll also be paying higher insurance rates and must pay for DMV administrative hearings and fees to reinstate your license. Altogether, a first-time DUI offense could potentially cost you anywhere from $10,000 to $25,000 when all is said and done.
Read more about the financial burdens of getting a first-time DUI.
Long-Term Employment & Career
Heavy drinker or otherwise, you may have experienced a hangover at some point in your drinking history. If you’re regularly abusing alcohol, this may happen more often than you’d like, causing you to miss work to recover or underperform while on the job. Over time, your paid time off (PTO) for sick days or vacation may run out and you’ll have to go without pay any time you stay home from a hangover.
Additionally, if you’re staying home often, your employer may begin to notice this pattern of absences or poor performance and you could lose your job. Depending on how your position was terminated, you could qualify for unemployment—but that only covers a percentage of your past paycheck. On the other hand, hourly employees don’t collect PTO when they call in sick or out of work. This daily loss of income could eventually add up the more often you do it.
Though in many states there are protections in place to prevent hiring discrimination based on DUIs and misdemeanors, the reality of it is that sometimes having a DUI or other alcohol-related offense on your record could reduce the chances of getting a job offer. Due to the nature of their work, some companies also have policies against employing drivers with DUIs such as Uber and Lyft.
Is It Worth It?
When you look at how much drinking alcohol can affect your life, especially for those who are potentially abusing it or suffering from alcoholism, it may be time to ask yourself, “Is it worth it?” Your health, the relationships you have, your finances, and your career goals may all be affected and at the end of the day, you have to decide what you want your future to look like.
If you or someone you love is struggling to stop drinking, American Addiction Centers provides a hotline to speak with our admissions navigators about treatment options any time of day. Call us now at 866-571-6191 to start your journey toward recovery today!
. National Survey on Drug Use and Health. (2019). Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (n.d.). Drinking Levels Defined.
. Dubowski, Kurt. ResearchGate. (2019). Stages of acute alcoholic influence/intoxication blood alcohol concentration grams/100 ml stage of alcoholic influence clinical signs/symptoms.
. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2018). Alcohol Use in Pregnancy.
. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA). (n.d.). Alcohol’s Effects on the Body.
. MedlinePlus. (2019). Alcoholic liver disease.
. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Liver Cancer.
. Piano MR. (2017). Alcohol’s Effects on the Cardiovascular System. Alcohol Res. 38(2):219–241.
. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (1993). Alcohol Alert. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 22, pg. 346.
. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2002). Alcoholism and Psychiatric Disorders. Alcohol Research & Health;26(2): 90-98.
. Ramesh Shivani, M.D., R. Jeffrey Goldsmith, M.D., and Robert M. Anthenelli, M.D. (2002). Alcoholism and Psychiatric Disorders. Alcohol Research & Health. 26(2): 90-98.
. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Excessive Drinking is Draining the U.S. Economy.