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Alcohol is a part of American culture. We celebrate and socialize with it, and it plays a prominent role in many of our religions. And while moderate alcohol consumption may have some health benefits (≤ 2 drinks/day for men, ≤ 1 drink/day for women), it’s excessive drinking that you have to worry about. Most of you know that drinking too much increases your risk of injury, especially if you get behind the wheel, but did you know that it can wreak havoc on your brain, heart, liver, pancreas, and immune system?

Drinking alcohol in excess can shrink your brain, permanently impairing your ability to think, learn, and remember. It can also enlarge your heart causing it to sag and droop thus limiting its ability to deliver nutrient rich blood to your body and increasing your risk of heart attack and stroke. Your liver can become too fatty and/or riddled with scar tissue and lose its ability to clean toxins from your blood, which in turn can cause severe and sometimes permanent damage to your tissues and vital organs. Your pancreas can swell causing it to malfunction resulting in diabetes and your immune system can become compromised such that you are no longer able to effectively fight off infection, sometimes resulting in serious illnesses such as pneumonia and tuberculosis.

So how much alcohol is too much? Adults age 65 and older should limit their alcohol intake to no more than 3 drinks on any given day and no more than 7 drinks per week. One standard drink contains about 0.6 fluid ounces of pure alcohol, which generally equates to 12 fluid ounces of beer, 8-9 fluid ounces of malt liquor, 5 fluid ounces of table wine, or a 1.5 fluid ounce shot of 80-proof distilled spirits. If you take medication, however, it may not be a good idea for you to drink any alcohol at all since mixing alcohol with certain medications can have disastrous results. Your doctor or pharmacist should be able to advise you as to whether or not you should be drinking alcohol.

For more information on the health effects of alcohol, visit www.niaaa.nih.gov.