Health Status > Health Behaviors

Alcohol Use

In 2004, 50.3 percent of the U.S. population aged 12 and older reported using alcohol in the past month; among those aged 18 and older, 54.1 percent reported using alcohol. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that, in small amounts, can have a relaxing effect. Although there is some debate over the health benefits of small amounts of alcohol consumed regularly, the negative short- and long-term health effects of excessive alcohol use and abuse are well-established. Short-term effects include motor vehicle injuries, falls, domestic violence, and child abuse. Long-term effects can include liver cirrhosis, pancreatitis, various cancers, high blood pressure, and psychological disorders, including dependence. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy contributes to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), infant low birth weight, and developmental delays in children. Current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that the following people not drink any alcoholic beverages: children and adolescents; individuals who cannot restrict their drinking to moderate levels; women who are or may become pregnant; individuals who plan to drive, operate machinery, or take part in other such activities; and individuals taking any medicines that may interact with alcohol.1

Overall, males are more likely to drink than females. Past-month alcohol use was reported among 56.9 percent of males compared to 44.0 percent of females. This is true across all age groups with the exception of 12- to 17-year-olds; among that age group, 17.2 percent of males reported past month use compared to 18.0 percent of females. Males are also much more likely than females to engage in binge drinking, which is defined as drinking five or more drinks on the same occasion at least once in the past month, and heavy drinking, which is defined as five or more drinks on the same occasion at least five times in the past month.

1 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, January 2005.

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Women's Health USA 2006 is not copyrighted. Readers are free to duplicate and use all or part of the information contained on this page. Suggested Citation: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Women's Health USA 2006. Rockville, Maryland: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2006.