Alcohol and Your Health - Minnesota Department of Health

Alcohol and Other Drugs
Alcohol and Your Health

What you need to know about alcohol and your health.

Alcohol use impacts everyone whether you, or someone else, uses alcohol. All Minnesotans can and should contribute to creating a safer culture regarding alcohol.

Alcohol and your health and safety

Alcohol use can lead to both short- and long-term health and safety issues. Short-term harms include injuries such as motor vehicle injuries or drowning; violence including homicide, suicide, intimate partner violence; alcohol poisoning; and poor birth outcomes (1). Over time, alcohol use can lead to chronic diseases such as heart disease, liver disease, digestive problems, and several types of cancer. Excessive alcohol use can also lead to learning and memory problems, mental health problems, social problems such as lost productivity or family problems, and alcohol dependence (1).

The best way to maintain a healthy relationship with alcohol is to avoid using alcohol completely. However, if a person chooses to drink alcohol, there are several ways to decrease risk for alcohol-related harms. Here are a few tips to maintain control of one’s relationship with alcohol:

  • Drink in moderation. Moderation means up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men by adults of legal drinking age (2).
  • Do not drive if you are planning to drink.
  • Sip slow and pace between drinks to avoid binge or heavy drinking.
  • Drink water in between drinks to ensure hydration.
  • Do not use alcohol if you are under the age of 21.
  • Do not use alcohol if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Pregnant women should not drink alcohol

Drinking alcohol while pregnant puts the baby at risk for lifelong physical, educational, behavioral and emotional problems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs) as a group of conditions that result from drinking alcohol while pregnant. Any amount of alcohol can directly, and negatively, affect the baby in the womb. There is no safe amount, nor time, for a mother to drink alcohol while pregnant.

Women who breastfeed should talk with their health care provider about alcohol use. Learn more about breastfeeding and alcohol use on the CDC’s Alcohol and Breastfeeding website.

Do not drive while impaired

The best way to avoid driving while impaired (DWI) is to not use alcohol or drugs if you are or planning to drive, operate, or be in physical control of any motorized vehicle, motorcycle, boat, snowmobile, ATV, dirt bike, or off-road vehicle. Designated drivers, taxis, public transportation and ride-sharing programs are safer ways to get home.

Avoid mixing alcohol and other drugs

Drinking alcohol while taking medications or other drugs can be harmful. The harm can be immediate, like drowsiness, rapid heartbeat, and an increased risk for overdose and even death. It can also lead to long-term harms like higher risk for liver damage, stomach bleeding, ulcers, and heart problems. For persons taking prescription medications for depression, alcohol can worsen feelings of depression.

Check your prescription bottle for any warning labels. If you have an over-the-counter medication, check the “Drug Facts” section for warnings. It is best to avoid alcohol altogether when taking medications. Talk to your health care provider or pharmacist for help in identifying possible reactions between alcohol and your medications.

Alcohol and diet

The Dietary Guidelines on Alcohol recommend that people who do not drink alcohol should not start drinking for any reason. If people choose to drink alcohol, then drinking to moderation is recommended. It is also important to be mindful of the calories in alcoholic beverages because they can add extra calories, carbohydrates, and sugars to the diet. Extra and unwanted calories can hinder weight loss and cause unbalanced diets. If you choose to drink, remember to account these calories in your daily food intake. 

Alcohol and caffeine

Mixing alcohol and caffeine is not safe because caffeine can mask the effects of alcohol. Caffeine can make a person feel more alert than they really are. When caffeine is combined with the impairing effects of alcohol, the risk for injury is even greater.

Alcohol and cancer

Research shows that alcohol is linked to cancers of the head and neck, esophagus, liver, breast and colon. In the body, alcohol is converted to a toxic chemical called acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde damages the DNA and prevents the body from repairing the damaged cells. The irreversible damage can cause cells to grow abnormally (3).

Additional resources

CDC Alcohol Portal
NIH Alcohol & Your Health

For more information

Kari Gloppen at kari.gloppen@state.mn.us for alcohol-related data information.

Dana Farley at dana.farley@state.mn.us for policy or program information.

Citations

(1) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Alcohol Use and Your Health. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm.
(2) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015. Available at https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/
(3) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Alcohol and Cancer. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/alcohol/index.htm.

Updated Wednesday, 27-Feb-2019 10:05:24 CST