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Overview of the risks and benefits of alcohol consumption

Kenneth J Mukamal, MD
Section Editor
Joann G Elmore, MD, MPH
Deputy Editor
Howard Libman, MD, FACP


Alcohol can be used safely by many patients, and moderate alcohol consumption has been associated with decreased mortality and may have cardiovascular benefits. However, excess alcohol intake is associated with increased mortality and other medical morbidities.

An overview of the risks and benefits of alcohol consumption will be discussed in this topic. Specific issues related to alcohol use in pregnancy and the cardiovascular benefits and risks of alcohol are discussed in detail separately. (See "Alcohol intake and pregnancy" and "Cardiovascular benefits and risks of moderate alcohol consumption".)

The implications of excessive alcohol use and screening for unhealthy use of alcohol are also discussed in detail separately. (See "Risky drinking and alcohol use disorder: Epidemiology, pathogenesis, clinical manifestations, course, assessment, and diagnosis" and "Screening for unhealthy use of alcohol and other drugs in primary care".)


Standard drink size — Definitions of a "standard drink" differ, both within and between countries (table 1) [1,2]. Standard drinks are depicted for the United States (figure 1). Analogous representations are available for the United Kingdom and for Australia (also applicable to France, Hungary, Ireland, New Zealand, Poland, and Spain). For example, a standard drink is generally considered as follows:

United States – 14 to 15 grams of alcohol (0.5 to 0.6 fl ounces), equivalent to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, and 1.5 ounces of 80 proof liquor [3]


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