SANTA ROSA, CA - FEBRUARY 07:  A Russian River Brewing Company customer takes a sip of the newly released Pliny the Younger triple IPA beer on February 7, 2014 in Santa Rosa, California.  Hundreds of people lined up hours before the opening of Russian River Brewing Co. to taste the 10th annual release of the wildly popular Pliny the Younger triple IPA beer that will only be available on tap from February 7th through February 20th. Craft beer aficionados rank Pliny the Younger as one of the top beers in the world. The craft beer sector of the beverage industry has grown from being a niche market into a fast growing 12 billion dollar business, as global breweries continue to purchase smaller regional craft breweries such this week's purchase of New York's Blue Point Brewing by AB Inbev. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
How alcohol affects your health
01:16 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Based on "standard" drink sizes, it's easy to overindulge

Drinking can affect your waistline, memory and looks

CNN  — 

This feature is part of CNN Parallels, an interactive series exploring ways you can improve your health by making small changes to your daily habits.

A lot of us drink. Too many of us drink a lot.

Worldwide, each person 15 years and older consumes 13.5 grams of pure alcohol per day, according to the World Health Organization. Considering that nearly half of the world doesn’t drink at all, that leaves the other half drinking up their share.

While the majority of the world drinks liquor, Americans prefer beer. The Beverage Marketing Corp. tracks these things: In 2017, Americans guzzled about 27 gallons of beer (or 216 pints), 2.6 gallons of wine and 2.2 gallons of spirits per drinking-age adult.

But Americans are lightweights in any worldwide drinking game, based on numbers from the World Health Organization. The Eastern European countries of Lithuania, Belarus, Czechia (the Czech Republic), Croatia and Bulgaria drink us under the table.

In fact, measuring liters drunk by anyone over 15, the US ranks 36th in the category of most sloshed nation; Austria comes in sixth; France is ninth (more wine) and Ireland 15th (yes, they drink more beer), while the UK ranks 18th.

Who drinks the least in the world? The Arab nations of the Middle East.

With all this boozing going on, just what damage does alcohol do to your health? Let’s explore what science says are the downsides of having a tipple or two.

Counting calories

Even if you aren’t watching your waistline, you might be shocked at the number of empty calories you can easily consume during happy hour.

Calories are typically defined by a “standard” drink. In the US, that’s about 0.6 fluid ounces or 14 grams of pure alcohol, which differs depending on the type of adult beverage you consume.

For example, a standard drink of beer is one 12-ounce can (355 milliliters). For malt liquor, it’s 8 to 9 fluid ounces (251 milliliters). A standard drink of red or white wine is about 5 fluid ounces (148 milliliters).

What’s considered a standard drink continues to go down as the alcohol content goes up. But what if that changes? Let’s use beer as an example.

It used to be that light beer came in around 100 calories while regular beer averaged 153 calories per 12-fluid ounce can or bottle – that’s the same as two or three Oreo cookies.

But beer calories depend on both alcohol content and carbohydrate level. So if you’re a fan of today’s popular craft beers, which often have extra c