What Alcohol Does to Your Body

Even when we have the best of intentions, we can tend to overindulge in … well, everything. Whether it’s a second helping of dinner, snacking on sweets or a venti-sized coffee, we often go a little too far. And that’s especially true — and risky — when it comes to alcohol.
Overdoing it with booze occasionally, like at a wedding or birthday party, might be fine (though your headache the next morning might make you think otherwise). But when does drinking frequently cross the line into being problematic? And what are the health risks of alcohol overconsumption? To gain some insight into these concerns, we spoke with hepatologist Jamile Wakim-Fleming, MD.
What are alcohol consumption guidelines?
It’s first best if we understand some of the dietary guidelines around alcohol. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ “Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025” recommends adults of the legal drinking age should either not drink or limit their drinking to two drinks a day or fewer for men and one drink a day or fewer for women.
The guidelines say those who shouldn’t consume any alcohol under any circumstances include:
Anyone under the legal drinking age.
Anyone with liver disease.
Anyone who’s pregnant or might be pregnant.
Anyone with a medical condition or taking medication that has poor interactions with alcohol.
Anyone recovering from “an alcohol use disorder” or has trouble controlling their alcohol consumption.
As for how much alcohol is considered standard, the guidelines define a standard drink as:
12 ounces of 5% alcohol by volume (ABV) like beer.
8 ounces of 7% ABV like malt liquor.
5 ounces of 12% ABV like wine.
1.5 ounces of 40% ABV (or 80 proof) distilled spirits like gin, rum and whiskey.
There are nuances to consider with these guidelines, though. While major American brands of beer have a 5% ABV measurement, many popular craft beers have higher alcohol content. That IPA you love might have an ABV of 7% or higher, so keep an eye on it when you’re knocking them back at your next summer barbecue.
How Much Alcohol Is Too Much?