People drink to socialize, celebrate, and relax.  Alcohol often has a strong effect on people – and throughout history, we’ve struggled to understand and manage alcohol’s power.  Why does alcohol cause us to act and feel differently?  How much is too much? Why do some people become addicted while others do not?

Here at NIAAA, we are constantly researching the answers to these, and many other questions about alcohol.  Here’s what we know:

Alcohol’s effects vary from person to person, depending on a variety of factors, including:

  • How much you drink
  • How often you drink
  • Your age
  • Your health status
  • Your family history

While drinking alcohol is itself not necessarily a problem – drinking too much can cause a range of consequences, and increase your risk for a variety of problems.

Consequences of drinking too much
Alcohol enters your bloodstream as soon as you take your first sip. Alcohol’s immediate effects can appear within about 10 minutes. As you drink, you increase your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level, which is the amount of alcohol present in your bloodstream.  The higher your BAC, the more impaired you become by alcohol’s effects.  These effects can include:

  • Reduced inhibitions
  • Slurred speech
  • Motor impairment
  • Confusion
  • Memory problems
  • Concentration problems
  • Coma
  • Breathing problems
  • Death

Other risks of drinking can include:

  • Car crashes and other accidents
  • Risky behavior
  • Violent behavior
  • Suicide and homicide

People who drink too much over a long period of time may experience alcohol’s longer-term effects, which can include:

Alcohol dependence
Health problems
Increased risk for certain cancers