The Advantages & Disadvantages of Drinking Alcoholic Beverages

Depending on whom you ask, alcohol is can be a blessing or a curse. Even Harvard School of Public Health calls it "both a tonic and a poison," depending on the dose. Although a cocktail, beer or glass of wine can be both relaxing and good for the heart, it might also play a role in cancer development, liver and heart damage and depression. How alcohol affects someone depends on the person, so everyone should weigh the pros and cons of consuming alcohol regularly.

Close-up of two martini glasses. (Image: Purestock/Purestock/Getty Images)

Definition of Moderate Drinking

The advantages of consuming alcohol are nearly always measured in terms of drinking moderately. That means one to two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women, according to Harvard. Breaking it down even further, one drink is generally considered to be 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of spirits, totaling about 12 to 14 grams of alcohol in each drink.

Advantages of Drinking

According to Harvard, more than 100 scientific studies show a relationship between moderate drinking and a reduced risk of death from heart attacks, clot-caused strokes and overall cardiovascular causes. Alcohol in reasonable amounts raises your levels of high-density lipoprotein, also known as "good" cholesterol, which helps protect against heart disease. Some types of alcohol are better protectants than others -- red wine, specifically, has a high concentration of polyphenols that can reduce blood pressure. Additionally, the University of Rochester Medical Center notes that moderate drinking can help protect blood vessels in the brain, as well as those in the heart, decreasing the risk for dementia.

Disadvantages of Drinking

Many of the drawbacks of alcohol appear when you round the curve from drinking moderately to drinking heavily or binge drinking. Heavy drinking can lead to inflammation of the liver, known as alcoholic hepatitis, and cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver. It also increases blood pressure, can damage the heart muscle and potentially plays a role in the development of several cancers, including breast, colon, mouth and liver, says Harvard. In addition, heavy drinking increases the risk for osteoporosis, particularly in young women, says University of Rochester Medical Center. Alcohol can disrupt sleep patterns and lead to weight gain, given that it serves up 7 calories per gram without offering any nutrients along with it. Drinking can also cloud your judgment, paving the way for destructive decisions such as getting behind the wheel of a car.

Effects of Binge Drinking

When it comes to drinking, the law of averages doesn't apply. Although one drink a day might benefit your health in the long run, the same doesn't apply to saving up all those weekday drinks and consuming six to seven drinks on one weekend night. This habit is known as binge drinking, and it's the riskiest pattern of consumption, Sharon C. Wilsnack, a professor of clinical neuroscience at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences, told "The Washington Post." When you binge-drink -- meaning that you consume more than five drinks in two hours if you're a man and four drinks if you're a woman -- the health effects are much like those of a heavy drinker. The rates of high blood pressure increase, and you're more likely to have a stroke.

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