Alcohol's Risks Outweigh its Benefits
> 12/18/2007 12:37:00 PM

As New Year's Eve approaches, many will celebrate the past year with a drink or two, and with all the information out there detailing the potential health benefits of alcohol, it's easy to justify a few extra drinks. Studies have shown that moderate drinking (no more than one drink a day for women under 65 and no more than two drinks a day for men under 65) lowers the risk for some health conditions, including heart attack and stroke. However, alcohol is not medicine and should not be treated as such. As USA Today points out, it's important to remember that alcohol is a drug, and in many cases its harmful results exceed any of its benefits.

When used to excess, alcohol's benefits disappear. Individuals who drink heavily put themselves at risk for numerous health problems, including heart damage, stroke, and cirrhosis of the liver, and the CDC lists excessive drinking as the third most preventable cause of death, accounting for at least 75,000 deaths a year. Over half of those deaths resulted from acute conditions caused by alcohol, a category which includes the victims of drunk driving.

Excessive use of alcohol can be deadly, but moderate drinkers are not immune from alcohol's risks either. Alcohol use always comes with the possibility for addiction and the serious health complications and impaired functioning that addiction entails. And even in small amounts, alcohol can disrupt sleep, impair judgement, and interact with prescription and over-the-counter medications, including antibiotics, tylenol, and aspirin. Alcohol use has also been linked to some cancers, including liver cancer and oral cancer. Generally, the more a person drinks the greater their risk for cancer, and heavy drinkers have a much higher risk than moderate drinkers. Studies have shown, however, that even moderate drinking can increase a woman's chances of developing breast cancer.

Alcohol cannot be broadly defined as either harmful or beneficial, especially as the potential risks and benefits of alcohol use will vary from person to person, depending on personal history and age. The cardiovascular benefit of alcohol only applies to people who are middle-aged or older, and even then weighing the risks and benefits of alcohol can be tricky. A woman over 60 who has a drink a day may be reducing her risk for heart disease, but she may also be increasing her chances of developing breast cancer. By becoming aware of our individual risk, we can make more informed decisions about whether or not to drink. Someone with a family history of alcoholism, for instance, should know that they have an increased risk of also becoming an alcoholic, while recovering alcoholics and pregnant women should not drink at all.

For individuals who don't drink, there's no reason to begin now. Rather, we can reduce our chances of developing heart disease and cancer by maintaining a healthy diet, staying physically active, and avoiding cigarettes and drugs. But with the holiday season upon us, it is also important for those who do drink to remember the risks that alcohol use brings and avoid overindulgence.

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