Content reviewed by Karen Rubenstein, LMFT

Alcohol is one of the world’s most widely known and used substances. As it is one of few federally legal substances, many believe alcohol is inherently safe. However, alcohol can contribute to poor health outcomes and increase the risk of addiction even when consumed in moderation. Discussing the short-term and long-term health effects of alcohol consumption is essential to recognize better that alcohol should never be considered a “safe” drug.

What is Alcohol?

Alcohol is an intoxicating ingredient found in beer, wine and liquor. It is produced by the fermentation of yeast, sugars and starches. People tend to react differently to alcoholic drinks for several reasons, including:

  • An individual’s unique genetics
  • An individual’s particular substance use tolerance
  • The alcohol content of the beverage consumed
  • The amount of alcohol consumed
  • How long of a period an individual is drinking alcohol

General Alcohol Policies

The 21st amendment, instated in 1933, repealed the national prohibition of alcohol that forbade the manufacture, sale and consumption of alcohol. This amendment also gave individuals states control over specific alcohol policies, including:

  • Allowing the sale of alcohol in the state
  • Allowing the import of alcohol into the state
  • How to distribute alcohol throughout the state
  • Possession of alcohol in the state

Although each state may set different alcohol policies and standards, all states uphold the standard that 21 years is the minimum legal drinking age.

Society Tends to Normalize Alcohol Use

Social media, television shows and other news sources have a significant influence, particularly on developing brains. Young people learn about the widespread use of alcohol through various sources, most of which depict alcohol consumption as commonplace during communal gatherings, family outings and other celebrations. These depictions contribute to curiosity and early experimentation with alcohol and other drugs.

Technology is not the only way that society normalizes alcohol use. As young children attempt to mirror the actions and behaviors of their parents, parents who partake in the use of alcohol can also have an impact on a child’s decision to experiment with alcohol initially. Young brains lack the ability to understand that the minimum drinking age is set to ensure greater health and wellness among younger people. Instead, younger people may view substance use as “cool” or “mature” and therefore want to participate.

The combination of media portrayal of alcohol use and the availability of alcohol can be dangerous for curious youth, teens and even those of drinking age.

The Effects of Alcohol Use on the Brain and Body

Consuming alcoholic beverages can cause detrimental health consequences, whether on one occasion or over time. Still, the excessive use of alcohol can produce immediate adverse health effects and increase the risk of developing many harmful health conditions. The short-term health risks of alcohol use can include:

  • Increased risk of injury: This can include motor vehicle crashes, falls, drownings and burns
  • Increased risk of violence: This can include intimate partner violence, assault and other aggressive behaviors
  • Alcohol poisoning: This is considered a medical emergency that results from high blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels
  • Risky sexual behaviors: This can include situations such as having unprotected sex or having sex with multiple partners
  • Increased health harms for pregnant women: Consuming alcohol when pregnant can result in miscarriage, stillbirth or fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS)
  • Other short-term effects: Dizziness, lack of judgment, loss of coordination, memory loss and hangovers can all contribute to short-term health risks and long-term health problems

The long-term health risks of alcohol use can include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Liver disease
  • Digestive problems
  • Increased risk of developing several different types of cancer
  • Weakened immune system, increasing the chances of getting sick
  • Cognitive difficulties, such as learning and memory problems
  • Co-occurring mental health problems
  • Social problems
  • Alcohol use disorder (AUD) or chemical dependency

Is Alcohol Ever Safe?

Alcohol consumption is always a concern. The bottom line is that alcohol is an addictive substance that can lead to many health problems. Alcohol use is not only a youth or adult problem—the effects of alcohol can impact anyone, no matter their age.

It is essential to understand that treatment is available for anyone struggling with substance use and addiction, including the socially accepted variety, including alcohol. There are also support groups readily available for those looking for support and the motivation necessary to heal. If you struggle to put the drink down or keep it down, reach out for help today.

Authentic Recovery Center is a treatment center that knows the difficulties of seeking assistance for alcohol use. However, we also recognize that even casual use can lead to addiction. We will help you heal from your addiction with a combination of different therapeutic approaches. To learn more about our treatment center, call (866) 786-1376.