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Alcoholic beverages are often enjoyed by a large percentage of the world's population. Small amounts of alcohol can have some beneficial effects on health, but drinking too much alcohol can cause serious health problems in many organ systems, cognitive issues, and can even lead to death
One standard drink contains about 0.42 oz. (12 g) of ethanol, which is equivalent to 12 oz. (340 g) of beer, 4 oz. (113 g) of non-fortified wine, or 1.5 oz. (42.5 g) of an 80-proof liquor. A standard drink per day in an otherwise healthy and non-pregnant individual can benefit the cardiovascular system. More than two standard drinks per day increases the risk for health problems. In the United States, for instance, legal alcohol intoxication defines a blood alcohol concentration of at least 0.08 to 0.10 gram per deciliter (g/dL). The acute effects of alcohol intoxication can be seen at levels as low as 0.02 to 0.03 g/dL.
The acute effects of too much alcohol consumption involve behavioral, cognitive, and psychomotor changes. Decreased inhibitions can be seen after drinking one to two standard drinks. Too much alcohol or binge drinking, rapidly consuming five or more standard drinks, can cause alcohol poisoning. Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include vomiting, confusion, slow and irregular breathing, stupor, seizures, low body temperature, pale or blue-tinged skin, and coma. Individuals who are in a state of coma are at risk for death.
Drinking too much alcohol on a regular basis decreases the life span by approximately a decade. In addition, too much alcohol is toxic to most organ systems. Long-term heavy drinking of alcohol causes peripheral neuropathy, brain atrophy, and irreversible cognitive changes. Psychiatric syndromes, such as severe anxiety, auditory hallucinations, and/or paranoid delusions, can also be experienced during heavy drinking and subsequent withdrawal. Although alcohol increases the ease of falling asleep, it causes sleep fragmentation with more and longer episodes of awakening.
The major adverse effect of alcohol is liver damage, such as alcoholic hepatitis and hepatic cirrhosis. Development of esophagitis, gastritis, gastric ulcers, esophageal varices, pancreatitis, cerebrovascular diseases, and cancer is also associated with long-term heavy drinking. Heavy drinking can also cause folic acid deficiency, alcoholic myopathy, and abnormality in the blood cells. It also affects the sexual functioning in both men and women by decreasing the erectile capacity in men and by increasing the risk for infertility and spontaneous abortion in women.
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