One drink can turn into six quite quickly. Consequences of drinking too much range from embarrassing to dangerous and destructive.

Learn some drinking basics before your next night out so you can drink responsibly!

What Is Alcohol?

Alcohol is a drug and a central nervous system depressant, meaning it slows down your body or part of your body. It is the ingredient found in beer, wine and liquor that makes you feel buzzed, tipsy or drunk.

What Is Binge Drinking?

Binge drinking means drinking an amount of alcohol in two hours that causes your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level to reach 0.08%. BAC refers to the amount of alcohol in your bloodstream.

  • For women, this usually happens after about four drinks
  • For men, this usually happens after about five drinks

The key word is “usually.” Alcohol affects everyone differently based on many factors, such as those listed below. For some, two drinks might be enough to raise their BAC to 0.08%. It’s best to monitor how the alcohol affects you personally. Don’t assume you can have four or five drinks and be under 0.08% just because others can.

Most people who binge drink are not dependent on alcohol.

What is a Standard Drink?

Because beer, wine and liquor all have different amounts of alcohol, a standard drink of each type of alcohol can look very different. While the sizes vary, each of these drinks has the same amount of alcohol and is a “standard drink”:

  • 12 ounces of beer (5% alcohol)
  • 8 ounces of malt liquor (7% alcohol)
  • 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol)
  • 1.5 ounces or a "shot" of 80-proof (40% alcohol) spirits or liquor

In some places, you may be able to find other spirits, such as moonshine. The alcohol content in these drinks can vary and may be much higher than traditional alcoholic beverages. You should consume these with caution.

The percentage of alcohol in a drink makes a big difference! That drink you order at the bar could be equal to two or three “standard drinks.” It depends on the type and amount of alcohol in the drink. To calculate how many drinks are actually in your drink, use the Rethinking Drinking Drink Size Calculator.

Infographic comparison of alcohol content percentage: 1.5 fl oz hard liquor is 40% alcohol, 5 fl oz wine is 12% alcohol, 8 fl oz malt liquor is 7% alcohol (shown in 12oz glass), 12 fl oz beer is 5% alcohol.

How Does Alcohol Affect You?

When you have a drink, alcohol enters your blood as soon as you start drinking. Effects can appear within 10 minutes.

Most people’s bodies can absorb about one drink per hour. When you drink more than that, your BAC level will rise, and you will begin to feel buzzed or drunk.

Keep in mind that not everyone processes alcohol at the same rate. These factors might affect how you react to alcohol:

  • Your age
  • Your gender
  • Your race or ethnicity
  • Your physical condition (weight, fitness level, etc.)
  • The amount of food you eat before drinking
  • How quickly you drink the alcohol
  • Your use of drugs or prescription medication(s)
  • Any family history of alcohol problems

The Effects Of Alcohol

So, what are the effects of alcohol? You should know the many short-term and long-term effects before you pick up another drink.

Short-Term Effects

Alcohol‘s short-term effects can make your night out (or the next morning) rougher than expected. Some short-term effects weaken your physical and mental abilities. They may cause you to make a few bad decisions…

  • Poor judgement (shot-gunning four beers and then calling your commander or CO = bad call)
  • Slurred speech
  • Slowed reaction times and reflexes (should be fun explaining how you lost a tooth when your buddy tossed you a beer…)
  • Feeling warm/hot
  • Loss of balance and motor skills (broke your wrist falling off the bar stool? Your unit will probably understand when you can’t go TDY/TAD…right?)
  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion, anxiety and restlessness
  • Dizziness
  • Lowered ability to reason (you might be a little stressed this month when you remember that you spent your paycheck on shots)
  • Dehydration
  • Memory loss (do you remember where you left your CAC card last night?)
  • Heavy sweating
  • Lowered inhibition and increase in risky behavior (you think you’re okay to drive and get drunk snacks until you’re facing an Article 15 or a court martial for a DUI charge)
  • Disturbed sleep (no time to make up for those lost zzzz’s on duty or in the field)
  • Bad breath
  • Altered views and emotions (maybe headbutting the wall because your football team lost wasn’t the right reaction)
  • Nausea and vomiting (there go the extra calories you needed to bulk up)
  • Hangovers (that early morning PT will hurt more than usual)
  • Lowered immune system, even up to 24 hours after drinking (meaning your buddy’s cold is more likely to become your cold)

Alcohol Poisoning

If you drink alcohol or spend time with people who drink, you need to know the signs of alcohol poisoning. This is one of the most dangerous short-term consequences of drinking too much. A night of binge or excessive drinking can lead to alcohol poisoning, which can cause permanent brain damage or even death.

Make sure you and your friends know the life-threatening signs of alcohol poisoning:

  • The person shows mental confusion, stupor or coma (for example, they don’t respond in full sentences that make sense)
  • The person can’t wake up or has passed out and is difficult to wake up
  • The person is vomiting
  • The person’s breathing is slow (fewer than eight breaths per minute)
  • The person’s breathing is irregular (10 seconds or more between breaths)
  • The person has a seizure (sudden and uncontrolled body movements and changes in behavior)
  • The person shows signs of hypothermia (or low body temperature), which includes cold, clammy, pale or bluish-colored skin

If one of your friends shows any of these signs after drinking, get help immediately—follow your local emergency reporting procedures or call 9-1-1. Once someone drinks a fatal dose of alcohol, they will eventually stop breathing and die. Do not let them “sleep it off.” Their blood alcohol level will continue to rise even after they have stopped drinking. Left alone, they could stop breathing, develop hypothermia or choke on their vomit while passed out. Your buddy’s life is important; get help if you’re concerned.

Long-Term Effects

Over time, excessive alcohol use can cause permanent damage to the body and brain. Alcohol causes drinkers serious problems, including:

  • Sexual dysfunction and decreased fertility
  • Dependence on alcohol (without alcohol, you experience shaking, trouble sleeping, irritability, depression, nausea or sweating)
  • Heart disease and other heart problems, such as irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure or stroke
  • Liver disease
  • Digestive problems
  • Cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, liver and colon
  • Pancreatitis (pancreas swelling)
  • Brain damage, including memory loss and brain shrinkage
  • Birth defects in children born to women who drink during pregnancy
  • Increased risk of miscarriage, stillbirth and premature delivery

The Consequences Of Drinking Too Much

  • Injuries like burns, drownings, falls, car crashes and firearm injuries

  • Violence such as child mistreatment, domestic violence and suicide

  • Sexual assaults

  • Increased aggression, depression and anxiety

  • Alcohol poisoning

  • Sexual dysfunction

  • Sexually transmitted infections or diseases from unsafe sex

  • Unintended pregnancy

  • Social problems, including loss of productivity, family problems and unemployment

  • Financial loss due to injuries, property damage and crime

Do You Need Help?

Drunk Driving

You’ve heard it before: don’t drink and drive. But unfortunately, it still happens. You might have a few drinks at happy hour and assume you‘re still under the 0.08% limit. You think you can make it home safely. Next thing you know, you’re driving in the dark without headlights on and drifting out of your lane. You forget to check your mirrors before switching lanes or swerve off the road. Then the cop lights flash behind you.

Driving buzzed IS driving drunk. Drinking even a little bit of alcohol makes it risky to drive:

  • If your BAC reaches 0.02% (usually after about two drinks), your ability to multitask drops. You have a harder time clearly seeing movement, colors and other forms
  • At 0.05%, you are less coordinated and less able to respond to emergency situations. You have a harder time steering and tracking moving objects

An average DUI costs $10,000. Skip the court costs, revoked license and possible injuries. Use one of the methods below to avoid driving buzzed or drunk.

  • Take turns being the designated driver (DD) within your group of friends. Make sure the DD has the car keys and doesn’t drink any alcohol during the night
  • Have a friend or family member drop you off at the bar or party. Set up a time for them to pick you up. Party running late? Bring a sleeping bag and crash on your friend’s floor
  • Take a cab or use a rideshare to get to the party or bar. If you don’t want to pay to get there and back, drive to the location and then get a ride home—your friend can take you to your car in the morning. Whatever you decide, just make sure you have a solid plan for the ride home before you (or your buddy) start drinking
  • Use public transportation when available. Buses and public transportation are great alternatives to driving
  • If you live in a safe area, walk to your location with a group of people you trust in well-lit areas. Be careful when crossing the street. If it’s late, you’re alone or you’re in an unfamiliar area, find another way home besides walking

Even if you think you’re safe to drive, don’t risk it! There are so many ways to get home safely when you decide to drink. Plan ahead and don’t drink impaired—no excuses!

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Joint Service Committee on Military Justice, MedlinePlus, National Center for Biotechnology Information and Navy Medicine