Health Status > Health Behaviors
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.