Learn more about alcohol and how to support your health and wellness
Health and wellness are core necessities whether a person has an active alcohol use disorder or is in early or long-term recovery. In short, health and wellness means taking care of yourself in any healthy way to help improve your life.
Repeated patterns of alcohol use can lead to chronic health conditions (physical and/or emotional) that impact both the length of a person’s life and the overall quality of life that can be experienced and achieved.
Recovery from an alcohol use disorder can be hard, but you can help yourself by improving your physical and mental health, or supporting a loved one in doing so. This may mean starting to exercise more, relaxing by listening to music, eating more nutritious foods, or it may mean seeking help from a professional, like a mental health therapist. If you need ideas to improve your health and wellness, talk with your healthcare provider, ask for advice from healthy and sober supports, or search the internet for ideas. Always pay attention to your personal needs and remember, there is hope wherever you are. Stories of recovery happen every day.
56 percent of Iowans report drinking in the past month. Most see it as a form of recreation. For many, it is. But not for 28.6 percent of Iowans who report binge drinking in the past month, which is higher than the national average.
Myths & Facts
How much of what you know about alcohol is actually true? Review the statements below and learn the facts.
When you order a margarita, it's just one drink.
Myth. Not necessarily. The number of standard drinks in a mixed drink depends on the number of shots added and the alcohol content in the liquor. One shot is 1.5 ounces of liquor. Margaritas or other mixed drinks may have several shots of liquor. If that’s the case, that one beverage will count as more than one standard drink.
Excessive drinking is when you get drunk more than once a week.
Myth. The feeling of getting drunk does not determine if your drinking is excessive. The definition of excessive drinking is more specific than that. Excessive drinking includes binge drinking – which is how much you drink at one event, and heavy drinking – how much you drink during the whole week.
For women, binge drinking is having four or more drinks on one occasion. For men, binge drinking is five or more drinks on one occasion.
For women, heavy drinking is having eight or more drinks in a week. And for men, heavy drinking is defined as having 15 or more drinks per week.
Alcohol impaired driving accounts for nearly 30 percent of all driving fatalities.
Fact. According to the CDC, in 2016, alcohol impaired driving was involved in over 10,000 deaths nationwide. That accounts for 28% of all traffic-related deaths in the USA.
I’m pregnant, but it is okay to have one glass of wine every once in a while.
Myth. There is no safe level of alcohol consumption while you are pregnant. Alcohol can affect a baby’s development at any stage during pregnancy. Alcohol passes easily from the mother to baby through the placenta. Alcohol exposure for a developing baby can interfere with organ development including the baby’s growing brain. Stay safe and do not drink alcohol while you are pregnant.
You can overdose on alcohol
Fact. An overdose on alcohol occurs when a person’s blood alcohol content (BAC) has risen enough to impair them. There are a wide range of effects, from stumbling to slurred speech; in the case of alcohol poisoning, effects include coma and death.
Alcohol is addictive.
Fact. Alcohol is an addictive substance. Some individuals have a predisposition to problem drinking based on family history.
If you drink beer before shots you won’t get sick.
Myth. The order in which you drink alcohol has nothing to do with if you get sick or not. It all depends on the total amount of alcohol you consume.
Alcohol dehydrates you.
Fact. Alcohol is a diuretic. That means it forces more water out of your body’s cells. Even though you’re drinking liquids, the alcohol does not hydrate you.
A nightcap is good to help you sleep.
Myth. You may fall asleep more easily if you had a drink before bed, but alcohol disrupts sleep and will negatively affect your night’s rest.
Coffee is good to help you sober up faster.
Myth. Coffee contains caffeine which will keep you awake, but you will still be impaired by alcohol if you have been drinking. There is nothing you can do speed up the process of detoxifying alcohol in your body.
Alcohol often has a significant effect on people who use it and it’s common for people to struggle to manage its impact on their functioning. Alcohol’s effects vary from person to person, depending on many factors, including:
- How much and how often you drink
- Your age and gender
- Your health status and mental health status
- Your family support system
- Your family history with alcohol
- Combining medications or other drugs
Alcohol use disorders develop when the brain is exposed to an amount of alcohol that causes structural and chemical changes to occur in the brain. The reason for different reactions to the same amount of alcohol in different people is still unknown. What we do know is that an unpredictable amount of alcohol can cause changes in the brain. These changes cause the pleasurable feelings one experiences when under the influence of alcohol which makes them want to drink more, even if it causes harm.
Alcohol is often a factor in car crashes, falls, burns, drownings, suicides, homicides, sexual assaults and transfers of sexually transmitted infections. If you choose to drink alcohol, then stay within the low-risk limits as identified by the National Institute of Health. Two steps you can take are to pace yourself and take precautions. For more information, please visit Rethinking Drinking.
- Tips to Reduce Risks from Alcohol This tip sheet (adapted from the Prevention and Wellness Services - Western Washington University) lists various ways to reduce the risks from the use of alcohol.
- Above the Influence This website, sponsored by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, helps teens stand up to negative pressures or influences. The more aware you are of the influences around you, the better prepared you will be to face them, including the pressure to use drugs, pills and alcohol.
- College Drinking Prevention This website, sponsored by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), is the one-stop resource for comprehensive research-based information on issues related to alcohol abuse and binge drinking among college students which strives to change the college drinking culture.
- OWI Education This website from the Iowa Department of Education explains requirements for persons caught driving under the influence within the state of Iowa. It also shares approved Iowa locations for the state-mandated 12-hour drinking driver course.
- MADD The Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) website supports their mission to end drunk driving, help fight drugged driving, support the victims of these violent crimes, and prevent underage drinking.
- SADD The Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) website promotes its simple philosophy that young people, empowered to help each other, are the most effective force in prevention.
- Stop Impaired Driving This website from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) seeks to eliminate drunk driving through research, public awareness campaigns and state safety grant programs, and works towards zero drunk-driving crashes on our roadways.
Image Source: ReThinking Drinking: "What's Low-risk drinking?"
The amount of liquid in a beverage does not necessarily correspond with how much alcohol is in that drink. That's because different types of drinks have widely different amounts of pure alcohol in them.
A standard drink in the United States contains 14 grams (half an ounce) of pure alcohol. If we break that down, the amount of alcohol in each of these types of drinks is considered one standard drink:
- 12 ounces of regular beer (5% alcohol)
- 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol)
- 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (about 40% alcohol)
Calculate how much alcohol is in different types of standard drinks.
Beerabout 5% alcohol12 fl oz
Craft Beerabout 9% alcohol6.5 fl oz
Red Wineabout 12% alcohol5 fl oz
White Wineabout 12% alcohol5 fl oz
Champagneabout 12% alcohol5 fl oz
Cognac/Brandyabout 40% alcohol1.5 fl oz
Spirits/Whiskyabout 40% alcohol1.5 fl oz
Yes and no. According to the Mayo Clinic, doctors are wary of encouraging anyone to start drinking alcohol, especially if there is a family history of alcohol use disorders. Staying within the low risk guidelines is key, and while several studies have focused on red wine specifically, it is not clear which parts of the wine may have positive impacts on heart health. For people who do not currently drink, studies have shown that adding regular alcohol consumption does not improve their health, and can increase their risk of other physical problems.
The CDC notes that chronic alcohol use affects every organ and system of the body. It can lead to medical disorders (e.g., fetal alcohol syndrome, liver disease, cardiomyopathy and pancreatitis). Heavy drinking can increase the risk for certain cancers. Drinking increases the risk of death from automobile crashes, as well as recreational and on-the-job injuries. Alcohol is also a risk factor for homicide and suicide. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016).
Individual bodies react to alcohol in various ways, even among people in the same family or for the same person on different days. Many factors influence the impacts of drinking alcohol, including: age, sex/gender, race and ethnicity, physical fitness level, weight, presence of medicines or other drugs in the body, amount of food eaten prior to drinking, how rapidly alcohol is consumed and a family history of alcohol problems.
Alcohol is a depressant of the central nervous system, which means that it slows down the operations of the body. It is quickly absorbed from the stomach and small intestine into the bloodstream. Alcohol is processed by the liver with enzymes that can only metabolize a small amount of alcohol at a time, while the rest is circulating throughout the body. The intensity of alcohol's effect on a person’s body is directly related to the amount they drank.
This is a common misperception; however, according to recent survey results, (2021 BRFSS) 43% of Iowans did NOT drink at all in the last 30 days. Those reporting binge drinking made up 20.1%. Unfortunately, this number is higher than the national average, placing Iowa in the highest category of binge drinking, per the CDC.
You can never have too much support. Especially when you’re facing a problem with alcohol or drug use, gambling, suicidal thoughts or mental health challenges. That’s why Your Life Iowa created our supportive text messaging program. So you can sign up to receive messages designed to provide you encouragement, no matter what you may be facing.
Brain injuries are often a multi-occurring condition with alcohol and substance use. Screening for brain injury is a best practice when responding to, and/or planning clinical and community-based responses for clients in health, community, and corrections services. Brain injury screening tools can provide a brief assessment of a person's exposure to brain injury, but do not provide a diagnosis or indicate an absence of a brain injury. Learn more with the Brain Injury Alliance of Iowa.
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