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Alcohol's impact on your health

Even moderate drinking can be damaging

This article was last updated on Nov. 4, 2022.

The presence of alcoholic beverages is nothing new throughout much of society, but it can play a role in your health.

Studies show that alcohol consumption increased with the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, according to a Blue Cross® Blue Shield® Association pulse survey External Site, alcohol consumption has increased 23 percent since the outbreak began. And, a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that about 13 percent of Americans were drinking or using drugs more External Site because of the stress of the pandemic. 

Before the pandemic, a 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) External Site showed that 85.6 percent of people ages 18 or older reported that they drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime. 54.9 percent reported that they drank in the past month.

For many, moderate drinking, which the U.S. Dietary Guidelines External Site says is one drink per day for women and two for men, is a common part of life. While excessive alcohol use can lead to all kinds of chronic diseases and serious problems, even moderate drinking has some serious, short-term impacts.

U.S. Dietary Guidelines on alcohol consumption

The short-term and long-term impacts of alcohol use

No matter how often or how much you drink, you're always assuming some risk. Short-term risks of even moderate alcohol consumption include:

  • Motor vehicle crashes
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Impaired behaviors
  • Lack of judgement
  • Skipping out on responsibilities
  • Problems with work
  • Issues with family or friends

And, drinking consistently over a long period of time has bigger health risks. The long-term effects of excessive alcohol use can impact both your physical and mental well-being for years to come. For example, it's associated with:

  • A weakened immune system, so there's an increased chance of getting sick
  • High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and liver disease
  • Breast cancer, colon cancer, as well as many other types of cancers
  • Learning and memory problems
  • Mental health problems, like depression and anxiety
  • Social and family problems
  • Alcohol dependence or alcoholism

Even if you're only drinking moderately, it's still important to monitor your health. In older adults, moderate alcohol use can intensify high blood pressure, lead to stroke, cause memory loss and affect mood disorders, as well as increase the risk of falls. Small amounts of alcohol can also interact with medications, lead to cognitive decline and contribute to cancer risk.

If you're concerned about excessive drinking, there's help available

Excessive drinking can pose some serious, long-term threats to your health. If you find yourself exceeding the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for alcohol consumption, talk with your personal doctor.

Depending on your health insurance plan, you may have benefits for chemical dependency treatment. Before seeking treatment, be sure to log in to myWellmark® Opens New Window or call Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield Customer Service to check your coverage.

Strategies to limit alcohol intake on your own

If you're interested in cutting back, these strategies might help:

  • Keep track of how much you drink. Log how many drinks you have per day or week, and aim to stay at or below the limit (one drink per day for women, and two for men).
  • Get the size right. A standard drink is 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1½ ounces of distilled spirits. Use a measuring cup or a shot glass to get it right, or ask your server for a standard size.
  • Alternate with water. Drink a glass of water after each alcoholic drink to help you slow down and stay hydrated.
  • Ask yourself, "Why would I drink?" Do you feel left out if you abstain from alcohol? Do you need to drink to have fun or relax? Decide for yourself if it’s something you want to do, instead of letting others influence your decision. Also, think about how alcohol makes you feel in the moment or the next day. Consider other ways to relax or have fun.
  • Abstain for a month. It’s a good way of judging whether or not you have a problem with alcohol in the first place, and it may help you feel better or lose weight.
  • Replace an alcoholic drink with a mocktail. A fancy non-alcoholic drink can feel celebratory or special enough to help you quit the habit of drinking too much.

If you are concerned about the impact alcohol is having on you or a loved one, talk with your doctor or visit the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism External Site.