Alcohol and health

Keeping Healthy with Alcohol

Brewers tasting beer.

The consumption of alcohol can have beneficial or harmful effects depending on the age and other characteristics of the person consuming alcohol, amount consumed and specifics of a situation.

According to research, the hazards of heavy alcohol consumption are well known and include increased risk of liver cirrhosis, hypertension, and cancers of the upper gastrointestinal tract, injury, violence, and death.

The National Health and Medical Research Council recommends that certain individuals who are more susceptible to the harmful effects of alcohol should not drink at all.

The consumption of alcohol can have beneficial or harmful effects depending on the age and other characteristics of the person consuming alcohol, amount consumed and specifics of a situation.

And moreover, alcohol should be avoided by those participating in activities that require attention, skill, and/or co-ordination.

However, alcohol may have beneficial effects when consumed in moderation. The lowest all-cause mortality occurs at an intake of one to two drinks per day.

The lowest coronary heart disease mortality also occurs at an intake of one to two drinks per day. Morbidity and mortality are highest among those drinking large amounts of alcohol.

Alcoholic beverages supply calories but few essential nutrients. As a result, excessive alcohol consumption makes it difficult to ingest sufficient nutrients within an individual’s daily calorie allotment and to maintain a healthy weight.

However the consumption of one to two alcoholic beverages per day is not associated with macronutrient or micronutrient deficiencies or with overall dietary quality; only heavy drinkers may be at risk of malnutrition if the calories derived from alcohol are substituted for those in nutritious foods.

Those who do drink alcoholic beverages should do so in moderation. Moderation is defined as the consumption of up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.

Twelve fluid ounces of regular beer, five fluid ounces of wine, or one-and-a-half fluid ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits count as one drink for purposes of explaining moderation. This definition of moderation is not intended as an average over several days but rather as the amount consumed on any single day.

Excessive alcohol consumption alters judgment and can lead to dependency or addiction. Even less than heavy consumption of alcohol is associated with significant risks. Compared with women who don’t drink, women who consume one drink per day appear to have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer.

Some people, including children and adolescents, women of childbearing age who may become pregnant, pregnant and lactating women, individuals who cannot restrict alcohol intake, individuals taking medications that can interact with alcohol, and individuals with specific medical conditions should not drink at all.

Even moderate drinking during pregnancy may have behavioural or developmental consequences for the baby which range from behavioural and psychosocial problems, malformation, and mental retardation in the baby.

Moderate alcohol consumption may have beneficial health effects in some individuals. In middle-aged and older adults, a daily intake of one to two alcoholic beverages per day is associated with the lowest all-cause mortality.

More specifically, compared to non-drinkers, adults who consume one to two alcoholic beverages a day appear to have a lower risk of coronary heart disease.

However, in contrast, among younger adults alcohol consumption appears to provide little, if any, health benefit, and alcohol use among young adults is associated with a higher risk of traumatic injury and death.

Key Recommendations

  • Those who choose to drink alcoholic beverages should do so sensibly and in moderation—defined as the consumption of up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.
  • Alcoholic beverages should not be consumed by some individuals, including those who cannot restrict their alcohol intake, women of childbearing age who may become pregnant, pregnant and lactating women, children and adolescents, individuals taking medications that can interact with alcohol, and those with specific medical conditions.
  • Alcoholic beverages should be avoided by individuals engaging in activities that require attention, skill, or co-ordination, such as driving or operating machinery.