Whether you drink beer, wine, or hard liquor, there are some things that you need to know about how alcohol can be harmful. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), nearly 56 percent of adults over the age of 18, report that they have consumed alcohol in the last 30 days, with a quarter of them acknowledging that they engaged in binge drinking. With numbers like this, it’s easy to see how alcohol abuse happens. 

Before you have your next alcoholic drink, consider the following facts:

You might be drinking more than you think you are. The standard for servings of alcoholic beverages typically contain about 14 grams of pure alcohol. That amount equates to:

  • 12 oz. of beer
  • 5 oz. of wine
  • 1.5 oz of liquor
  • 8.5 oz. of malt liquor

Unfortunately, most bars and restaurants don’t adhere to standard sizes. In fact, some cocktails that you purchase while you are out may contain as much as three standard servings of alcohol.

Alcohol changes your brain. The human brain is an amazing thing. It adapts physically to your environment, so that you are better able to perform at whatever you are doing. When you drink alcohol regularly, your brain may begin to interpret your usage as a new environment and change to better help you function with alcohol in your body’s system. And, once your brain adapts to having alcohol in your system, it will not unadapt, it stays the same even when you stop drinking.

Alcohol affects women and men differently. Women and men metabolize alcohol differently. This is due to a difference in stomach enzymes, the muscle to fat ratio, hormones, and water concentration in the body. Women typically absorb more alcohol and process it more slowly than men. Additionally, women have a higher risk of suffering long-term damage from alcohol.

Alcoholism has a genetic component. Many experts believe that alcoholism, much like other diseases, is a result of both environmental and biological factors. It’s estimated that about ten percent of the American population is genetically predisposed to alcoholism or drug addiction. While that doesn’t mean that everyone who is predisposed will become alcoholics, it is a reason to be mindful of your alcohol consumption to avoid becoming addicted.

Alcohol-related causes are a leading cause of death. Alcohol-related injuries, accidents, and illnesses account for nearly 100,000 deaths in the U.S. each year, making it the third leading preventable cause of death.

Binge drinking is dangerous – and common. Binge drinking is defined as imbibing 5 or more consecutive drinks for men, and 4 or more consecutive drinks for women. It’s an excessive amount of alcohol consumed in a short period of time. In other words, it’s when someone is drinking with the intention of getting drunk. Binge drinking typically causes blood alcohol levels that significantly exceed the legal BAC level of 0.08%. The risks of binge drinking vary from the minor discomfort of a hangover to accidents and injuries to extremely serious consequences, including death. Other significant risks include drunk driving, risky sexual behavior, sexual abuse, injuries, and assault.

Alcohol withdrawal can be deadly. While only about 20 to 25 percent of alcoholics have alcohol withdrawal that is severe enough to require constant monitoring and the help of medication, it’s hard to know if you are in the 20 to 25 percent. Most people detoxing from alcohol will have some withdrawal symptoms, like shaking, sweating, headache, and nausea, but for alcoholics who have been drinking for a long time or who drink large quantities, it can be much more dangerous. Seizures, coma, and even death can result from abruptly stopping drinking.

Guessing whether or not you need medical detox can be very risky. If you have any withdrawal symptoms, even minor ones, you should seek medical help for detox because symptoms can escalate quickly. You may not need to be monitored constantly or have medication to ease the discomfort of withdrawal, but it is certainly worth being evaluated by a medical professional and not deciding for yourself.