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Alcohol - When Tipsy Becomes Trouble

Nina Ghamrawi, MS, RD, CDE
3
February 9, 2022

Many of us had tried alcohol, at least socially at work or with friends. While one standard-sized drink a couple of times per week may not be a horrible thing for you, it is hard to know how much is too much - especially if you have a high tolerance, or don’t show symptoms. Read here to know how much is a serving size, what your body does with alcohol and what organs it affects, and how to know if you’ve had too much.

A Serving Size of Alcohol

  • 12 ounces of regular beer (around 5% alcohol). Think light beer is better? Guess again. Most light beers have around 4.2% alcohol, which actually nearly the same.
  • 5 ounces of wine (around 12% alcohol). You should have only 4oz if it is a 14-15% alcohol wine.
  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits, which is about 40% alcohol

You can use this depiction, courtesy of the National Institutes of Health, to see what a standard size looks like.

Careful What You Put Your Alcohol In

The typical red plastic cups you find at parties are around 18 fluid ounces. If you've had 3 cup fulls of beer, and that beer is around 4.5% alcohol, then you've just had 4.5 servings. But if your beer is 6.75% alcohol, then you've had closer to 7 servings of beer.

How Does Alcohol Affect Health

Dehydrating. Alcohol is dehydrating during the moments after you consume it. When you drink, the alcohol can confuse brain signals, telling the kidneys to release more water.

  • Water is flushed out much faster than alcohol is processed.
  • If you consume more alcohol while your body is still processing your previous drinks, or if you don’t replenish your body’s water content by drinking water awhile you drink alcohol, your blood alcohol content (BAC) can rise quickly.

Faster Aging. Many studies confirm that when we drink alcohol frequently, this can gradually damage the cells in our body, specifically, the the protective parts of the cells that protect and contain our DNA, our telomeres.

Liver damage. Since alcohol is first and primarily metabolized in the liver, and much of alcohol calories are not readily useable as energy, usually calories from alcohol turn into fat. This can lead to liver inflammation, and eventually, alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Performance issues. Confusing brain signals to other organs, alcohol can affect brain tissue and lead to confusion, poor athletic performance, poor work performance, poor reaction speeds, and even poor sexual performance.

Dementia. Over time, regular alcohol consumption can lead to alcohol-related dementia. The suggested reason is that the shortening of telomeres cause premature cell aging, and even cell and neuron death in the brain, leading to gradual brain decay.

How Do You Know If You Need to Cut Back?

If a male drinks more than 8 servings of alcohol in a sitting, or a female drinks more than 4 servings of alcohol in a sitting, and this is done regularly, most days of the week, then this is a sign of a problem.

Talk to your doctor about ways you can reduce your alcohol intake gradually and avoid withdrawal symptoms.

WebMD explains the 11 criteria, or symptoms, in the DSM-5 in an easy-to-understand list:

  • Feeling powerless to control one’s level of alcohol use
  • Declining to engage in social activities or hobbies that used to be of interest
  • Having a desire to stop or decrease drinking but being unable to do so
  • Using alcohol in high-risk situations, such as while swimming or driving
  • Devoting significant time and resources to drinking
  • Developing a tolerance for alcohol (i.e., needing more alcohol over time to match the feelings from earlier use)
  • Experiencing cravings for alcohol when not drinking
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not drinking (e.g., cravings, sweating, shaking, and nausea)
  • Facing problems at work, home, or school because of alcohol use
  • In reaction to the discomfort associated with withdrawal, having to drink to feel better
  • Continuing to use alcohol even when it is leading to social, physical, relationship, and personal problems

Takeaways

If you or someone you love may need help dealing with an alcohol use or abuse disorder, contact American Addiction Centers today at (888) 973-0325 or get a text for information on various treatment options. Though they are available 24/7, you may feel more comfortable seeking advice from your doctor. They can also help keep you healthy, and run any necessary tests to help you understand the health of your brain, heart, and liver after alcohol abuse.