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  » Alcoholism and treatment  »  Alcohol Risk Chart
ALcohol Risk Chart

Drinking alcohol is associated with a number of medical and social problems including cancers, liver disease, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, cardiomyopathy, alcoholism, accidents, suicide, and harmful interaction with medications. Yet, research has consistently associated moderate drinking with less heart disease and fewer total deaths. Determining whether possible benefits of moderate drinking will occur for an individual is not possible. Weighing the possible benefit of alcohol consumption against the risk should involve discussion with a physician intimately familiar with both the person's medical/personal history and risks/benefits of drinking alcohol. One Drink is: 12-ounce beer 4-ounces of wine 1 ˝-ounce shot of 80-proof spirits Studies indicate groups of individuals drinking 1-2 drinks/day have lower death rates than groups of nondrinkers or groups drinking 3 or more drinks/day. Drinking 3 or more drinks/day is associated with increased death rates that rapidly increase with increasing number of drinks. Generally, there is wider acceptance of the research on adverse health effects of drinking alcohol and less certainty regarding potential benefits. The following chart summarizes risks/benefits of drinking alcohol. Alcohol Consumption Risk-Benefit Associations.




0 drinks/day

Significantly decreased risk for psycho-social problems associated with alcohol/alcoholism

Slightly higher death rate and rates of cardiovascular disease than moderate drinkers.

1-3 drinks/week

Increased longevity in women.

More than 3 drinks/week associated with increased risk for breast cancer in women.

1-2 drinks/day

Lower overall death rate, lower cardiovascular disease rate, and lower risk for ischemic stroke.

Increased risk for hemmorrhagic stroke. Increased risk for breast cancer in women.

3-4 drinks/day


Increased rates of stomach, neck, and mouth cancers*. Further increasing risk of breast cancer in women. Increased risk of fractures in older men and women. Increased high blood pressure and reduced effectiveness of blood pressure medications. Further increasing risk for hemorrhagic stroke.

5-6 drinks/day


Increased risk for acute arrhythmia plus the risks listed above.

7+ drinks/day


Increased risk for liver disease, congestive heart failure, and cardiomyopathy plus the risks listed above. *Cancer rates increased by smoking or a diet low in fruits and vegetables.

Other associations with heavier drinking include pancreatitis, suicide, and accidents. NUTRITIONALLY SPEAKING At 7 calories/gram, alcohol is second only to fat ( 9 calories/gram) in caloric density. If weight management is a concern, alcohol consumption must be moderate. (See Caloric content of alcoholic beverages table). Caloric Content of Alcoholic Beverages Distilled Liquors

Gin, Rum, Vodka, Whiskey



80 Proof

1 1/2 oz.


90 Proof

1 1/2 oz.


100 Proof

1 1/2 oz.






4 oz.



4 oz.


Red, California

4 oz.


Sauterne, California

4 oz.



4 oz.


Vermouth, dry

4 oz.


Vermouth, sweet

4 oz.


Malt Liquor




12 oz.





Regular Beer

12 oz.


Lite Beer

12 oz.






4 oz.



8 oz.


Whiskey Sour

3 oz.



4 oz.


Tom Collins

10 oz.



4 oz


The presence of alcohol in the body may promote any excess calories be stored as abdominal fat, which is linked to high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers. Drinking alcohol may increase high triglycerides ( fat in the blood). On the other hand, moderate drinking of alcohol may favorably raise HDL-Cholesterol ("good"cholesterol in blood associated with decreased heart disease risk). Non-alcoholic compounds in some alcoholic beverages ( phytochemicals and antioxidants) have been targeted for research regarding their potential to reduce disease risk. One of the better known of these compounds, reservatol, is found in red wines, red grape skins and dark grape juice. Recent research indicates that other beneficial compounds may also exist in beer.

Decisions about Drinking Alcohol Contributed by Duke Center for Living Psychologist Making decisions about alcohol consumption is very personal. Because of possible health benefits from moderate drinking (1-2 drinks/day or less) many individuals are considering changing their drinking habits. Weighing the substantial health risks against the possible health benefits of alcohol is a complex process. Because health issues are involved, decisions should include discussion with a physician intimately familiar with the both potential risks/benefits of drinking and the medical history of the individual. Alcoholism is the third most deadly disease in the United States. A nationwide study estimated that about 15% of adults had been addicted to alcohol at some time in their lives, and about 7% were addicted at the time of the study. Another study found that 60% of males and 30 % of females have had one or more negative events in their lives due to drinking (e.g., driving after drinking too much, missing work due to a hangover, etc.). How do you know when you are drinking too much? The definition of alcoholism does not refer to how much a person drinks, but rather to how the alcohol affects the person. When people become dependent on alcohol to "help" them with any normal function, they can be considered alcoholic. For example, if someone needs alcohol to be able to socialize, he/she may be an alcoholic. If the person needs alcohol to get relief from pain (physical or emotional), he/she may be an alcoholic. If the person needs alcohol to unwind at the end of the day, he/she may be an alcoholic. The important question to ask is, "Can I do this without alcohol? Or depend on it?" It can be very difficult to recognize alcohol problems. There is often denial on the part of the drinker as well as his/her family. Four particular questions have been helpful in identifying alcohol abuse.

  1. Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?

  2. Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?

  3. Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking?

  4. Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover?

If you answered "yes" to one or more of these questions, seriously consider talking to someone about your drinking. Even one "yes" answer to these questions is a warning that should be further evaluated. If you answered "no" to all of these questions, do not rest assured that you do not have alcohol problems. These questions are helpful in identifying undetected drinking problems, but "no" answers do not ensure there is no problem. There are numerous places to search out help if you think that you, a friend or family may have a drinking problem. Search for these types of organizations in your area:

Alcoholism and Addictions Programs County Substance Abuse and Alcohol Treatment Services County Mental Health Centers Alcoholics Anonymous Al-Anon/Adult Children of Alcoholics Employee Assistance Programs