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A Widespread Problem

Alcohol - Getting the Facts

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Updated February 14, 2014

For most people, alcohol is a pleasant accompaniment to social activities. Moderate alcohol use -- up to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women and older people (A standard drink is one 12-ounce bottle of beer or wine cooler, one 5-ounce glass of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits) -- is not harmful for most adults.

Nonetheless, a substantial number of people have serious trouble with their drinking. Currently, nearly 14 million Americans -- 1 in every 13 adults -- abuse alcohol or are alcoholic.

Several million more adults engage in risky drinking patterns that could lead to alcohol problems. In addition, approximately 53 percent of men and women in the United States report that one or more of their close relatives have a drinking problem.

The consequences of alcohol misuse are serious - in many cases, life-threatening. Heavy drinking can increase the risk for certain cancers, especially those of the liver, esophagus, throat, and larynx (voice box). It can also cause liver cirrhosis, immune system problems, brain damage, and harm to the fetus during pregnancy.

In addition, drinking increases the risk of death from automobile crashes, recreational accidents, and on-the-job accidents and also increases the likelihood of homicide and suicide. In purely economic terms, alcohol-use problems cost society approximately $100 billion per year. In human terms, the costs are incalculable.

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