After a long day at work, taking the edge off might look like going out for a cocktail or pouring yourself a nice stiff drink.
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While light drinking may have some health benefits for some people, if that one drink turns into three, five or more, that's a problem. And if drinking too much alcohol has become a nightly habit, your body may be silently suffering.
One serving of liquor is 1.5 ounces — that's about the size of a small shot glass. That's not a lot considering one serving of wine is 5 ounces and one serving of beer is 12 ounces, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Why is a serving size of liquor so small? Well, hard liquor is about 40 percent alcohol, while wine is around 12 percent and beer is 4 to 5 percent alcohol.
The recommendation for drinking alcohol has long been no more than one drink per day for women and two for men on days you imbibe. However, this advice may be changing.
The Scientific Report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, released in July 2020, suggests that men and women both stick with a maximum of one drink per day.
Your Liver Gets Compromised
The liver is very forgiving — it can take a lot of abuse before it has had enough. But the problem with this is that everyone's threshold is a little different and it's hard to know when your liver is suffering.
The liver goes through stages before alcohol takes an irreversible toll. Those at risk for liver damage are men who drink over 14 drinks per week and women, as well as people over age 65, who drink seven or more drinks per week, according to a June 2020 StatPearls report.
If you go back to what's considered "a drink," that hard liquor every night may be adding up to more than your body can handle.
Here's what can happen to your liver if you are drinking a little too much every night. When you drink alcohol, triglycerides can accumulate in the liver, causing fatty liver disease — that's stage one.
If you're still drinking and not giving your liver a chance to recover, this could turn into inflammation in the liver, which is still treatable, but it takes more work and no drinking, per the June 2020 report. The last stage is cirrhosis, which is irreversible liver damage.
Choices such as whiskey, vodka, tequila and rum make you especially susceptible because the serving size for hard liquor is much less than other alcohol, so you may be drinking more than you intend — which could cause serious damage to your liver.
And having overweight or obesity puts you at a greater risk for liver disease and mortality, according to a May 2021 study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Your Cancer Risk May Rise
Cancer, in its simplest definition, is uncontrollable cell division in the body, which spreads to other areas.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) recently updated its guidelines on alcohol consumption, recommending that it is best to abstain from alcohol altogether.
The stronger or larger your drink — in other words, the more ethanol you consume — seems to determine the risk for development of cancer, according to the ACS.
Drinking alcohol puts you at higher risk of developing cancer of the esophagus, liver, colon and rectum, mouth, throat and voice box and smoking while drinking exponentially increases the risk. So, if you only smoke when you drink, you aren't doing yourself any favors.
In addition, alcohol has been linked to higher rates of breast cancer by increasing estrogen in the body, per the ACS.
Your Weight Might Go Up
Unless you're a scotch on the rocks kind of person, you probably aren't drinking your liquor straight out of the bottle. Chances are, you are mixing it with something to tame down the fire. And that usually means you're also taking in extra added sugar.
Not only does alcohol add extra unnecessary calories to your daily diet, those mixers are significantly increasing the added sugar you take in — and that all adds up if you're drinking every night.
Frequent alcohol consumption is a contributor to obesity, per a June 2017 study in Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention in Canada.
Researchers found that young adults who drank frequently, to include binge drinking, took in a significant amount of extra calories over a one year period — enough calories to equal a possible weight gain of 14 to 32 pounds.
Drinking alcohol has also been linked to altered decision making, which also encompasses the dietary choices you make. This means, when you drink, you may not make the healthiest choices and eat foods you wouldn't normally choose.
Your Heart Health Takes a Hit
If drinking hard liquor every night takes you over the recommended limit, you might be seriously damaging your heart.
The American Heart Association states that drinking in excess — over the recommendation — can result in high blood pressure, cardiomyopathy or cardiac arrhythmias. Even worse, binge drinking can result in heart failure.
An extensive 2017 review published in Alcohol Research indicates that the risk for heart damage is dependent on dose. This means that as daily alcohol consumption increases, so does your risk for heart damage, which includes high blood pressure.
Your Mental Health Suffers
Imbibing in your nightly drink could be more of a habit and could be hard to break. Take a look at the reasons why you may be indulging every night.
Alcohol has been linked to disruptions in sleep, impairment in judgement and it can negatively affect relationships, according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. All of these factors can take a significant cascading toll on your mental health.
Using hard liquor to relieve stress affects your ability to find healthy ways to manage stress. Men and women with higher stress levels tend to drink more, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, with men using alcohol as a coping mechanism more than women.
If you are using alcohol to relieve stress and doing so has become part of your routine, switch up your drink. Try Ritual, a non-alcoholic spirit alternative, or a glass of 100-percent grape juice or a flavored sparkling water instead.
When to Seek Help
If you think you might have a problem with alcohol (learn about the symptoms of alcohol use disorder and the three-step treatment), call your health care provider for help.
If anonymity is a concern, consider reaching out to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
In addition, remember, there is no safe amount hard liquor — or any type of alcohol — for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. The alcohol can be passed to your infant, so it's best to avoid alcohol altogether.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: "What is a Standard Drink?"
- Scientific Report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee
- NCBI: "Alcoholic Liver Disease"
- American Cancer Society: "American Cancer Society Updates Guideline for Diet and Physical Activity"
- American Cancer Society: "Alcohol Use and Cancer"
- Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention in Canada: "Estimating how extra calories from alcohol consumption are likely an overlooked contributor to youth obesity"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Alcohol: Balancing Risks and Benefits"
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: "The Link Between Stress and Alcohol"
- American Heart Association: "Is Drinking Alcohol Part of a Healthy Lifestyle?"
- Alcohol Research: "Alcohol's Effects on the Cardiovascular System"
- European Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Joint associations of adiposity and alcohol consumption with liver disease-related morbidity and mortality risk: findings from the UK Biobank"