Skip to main content
updated March 15, 2011

Alcohol use: If you drink, keep it moderate

  • SUMMARY
  • Alcohol use is a slippery slope. Moderate drinking can offer some health benefits. But it's easy to drink too heavily, leading to serious health consequences.
ASK AN EXPERT
Got a question about a health story in the news or a health topic? Here's your chance to get an answer. Send us your questions about general health topics, diet and fitness and mental health. If your question is chosen, it could be featured on CNN.com's health page with an answer from one of our health experts, or by a participant in the CNNhealth community.




* CNN encourages you to contribute a question. By submitting a question, you agree to the following terms found below.
You may not post any unlawful, threatening, libelous, defamatory, obscene, pornographic or other material that would violate the law. By submitting your question, you hereby give CNN the right, but not the obligation, to post, air, edit, exhibit, telecast, cablecast, webcast, re-use, publish, reproduce, use, license, print, distribute or otherwise use your questions(s) and accompanying personal identifying and other information you provide via all forms of media now known or hereafter devised, worldwide, in perpetuity. CNN Privacy Statment.
Thank you for your question!

It will be reviewed and considered for posting on CNNHealth.com. Questions and comments are moderated by CNN and will not appear until after they have been reviewed and approved. Unfortunately, because of the voume of questions we receive, not all can be posted.

Submit another question or Go back to CNNHealth.com

Read answers from our experts: Living Well | Diet & Fitness | Mental Health | Conditions
Decrease fontDecrease font
Enlarge fontEnlarge font
MayoClinic Logo
Filed under: Boomer's Health

(MayoClinic.com) It sounds like a mixed message: Drinking alcohol may offer some health benefits, especially for your heart. On the other hand, alcohol may increase your risk of health problems and damage your heart.

So which is it? When it comes to drinking alcohol, the key is doing so only in moderation. Certainly, you don't have to drink any alcohol, and if you currently don't drink, don't start drinking for the possible health benefits. In some cases, it's safest to avoid alcohol entirely — the possible benefits don't outweigh the risks.

Here's a closer look at the connection between alcohol and your health.

Don't Miss

Health benefits of moderate alcohol use

Moderate alcohol consumption may provide some health benefits. It may:

  • Reduce your risk of developing heart disease
  • Reduce your risk of dying of a heart attack
  • Possibly reduce your risk of strokes, particularly ischemic strokes
  • Lower your risk of gallstones
  • Possibly reduce your risk of diabetes

Even so, the evidence about the possible health benefits of alcohol isn't certain, and alcohol may not benefit everyone who drinks.

Moderate alcohol use may be of most benefit only if you're an older adult or if you have existing risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol. If you're a middle-aged or younger adult, some evidence shows that even moderate alcohol use may cause more harm than good. In fact, if you're a woman and drink alcohol, talk to your doctor about taking supplemental folate to help reduce the risk of breast cancer associated with alcohol use. You can take other steps to benefit your cardiovascular health besides drinking — eating a healthy diet and exercising, for example.

Guidelines for moderate alcohol use

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that if you choose to drink alcohol you do so only in moderation — up to one drink a day for women or two drinks a day for men.

Examples of one drink include:

  • Beer: 12 fluid ounces (355 milliliters)
  • Wine: 5 fluid ounces (148 milliliters)
  • Distilled spirits (80 proof): 1.5 fluid ounces (44 milliliters)
When to avoid alcohol use

Keep in mind that moderate use of alcohol doesn't mean that using alcohol is risk-free. For example, if you binge drink — such as having four or five drinks in the space of a few hours — you face serious health problems. Likewise if you drink and drive.

Here are other situations in which the risks of alcohol use may outweigh possible health benefits:

  • You're pregnant or trying to become pregnant
  • You take medications that can interact with alcohol
  • You've had a previous hemorrhagic stroke
  • You've been diagnosed with alcoholism or alcohol abuse
  • You have liver or pancreatic disease
  • You have heart failure or you've been told you have a weak heart or dilated cardiomyopathy
  • You're planning to drive a vehicle or operate machinery

Some situations are less clear-cut. Use alcohol only with great care and after consulting your doctor if:

  • You have a family history of alcoholism
  • You take prescription medications for a health problem
  • You use over-the-counter pain relievers or fever reducers
  • You have a family history of breast cancer
  • You have precancerous changes in your esophagus, larynx, pharynx or mouth
Consequences of heavy alcohol use

Although moderate alcohol use may offer some health benefits, heavy drinking — including binge drinking — has no health benefits. Excessive drinking can cause potentially serious health problems, including:

  • Certain cancers, including breast cancer and cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus and liver
  • Pancreatitis
  • Sudden death if you already have cardiovascular disease
  • Heart muscle damage (alcoholic cardiomyopathy) leading to heart failure
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Suicide
  • Accidental serious injury or death
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome and other health problems in an unborn child
Drink alcohol only in moderation — or not at all

The latest dietary guidelines make it clear that no one should begin drinking or drink more frequently on the basis of potential health benefits. So don't feel pressured to drink alcohol. But if you do drink alcohol and you're healthy, there's probably no need to stop as long as you drink responsibly and in moderation.

©1998-2013 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). Terms of use.
Read this article on Mayoclinic.com.


advertisement
Ask the Community

Want to know more about this article or other health related issues? Ask your question and we'll post some each week for CNN.com reader to discuss or for our experts to weight in.

Ask the Community button