While drinking alcohol moderately comes with both risks and possible benefits, a person should exercise caution. The risks of drinking alcohol excessively may outweigh any possible benefits.

This article will explore drinking habits, the potential health benefits of drinking in moderation, the risks, and other effects of alcohol on the body. We will also look at ways to reduce risks and alcohol consumption.

People toasting with glasses of wine and food on the tableShare on Pinterest
Rowena Naylor/Stocksy

According to data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), as of 2019, 85.6% of people over age 18 in the United States reported that they had drunk alcohol at some point in life.

Meanwhile, 54.9% of people reported that they had consumed alcohol in the past month.

Drinking in moderation

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, moderate drinking consists of two drinks or less per day for men of legal drinking age and one drink or less per day for women of legal drinking age.

One drink is equivalent to:

  • a bottle of regular beer — 12 ounces (oz)
  • a glass of wine — 5 oz
  • a shot of liquor such as vodka — 1.5 oz

The guidelines do not recommend that individuals who currently do not drink start drinking for any reason. They also mention that drinking less is better for a person’s health than drinking more.

Moderate alcohol consumption has some potential benefits for the body, but these do not outweigh the risks of alcohol consumption.

People should consult a doctor to discuss ways to reduce the risk and treat the effects of certain health conditions.

Alcohol may offer protective effects for certain body systems and may reduce the risk of developing some health conditions, including the following.

Cardiovascular diseases

According to a 2020 review, alcohol consumption at low and moderate levels may help protect against cardiovascular diseases.

Fermented alcoholic beverages, such as beer and wine, contain polyphenols such as resveratrol.

Polyphenols have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, and experts associate these with a decrease in the incidence of some diseases, including cardiovascular diseases.

While the 2020 review suggests that consuming small amounts of alcohol may carry some benefit, consuming large amounts, even occasionally, remains detrimental.

To better reflect short-term and habitual alcohol consumption and its effects, future studies need to use more reliable measurements of alcohol exposure rather than self-reported intake.

A 2018 animal study found that resveratrol had protective effects on cardiovascular function in diabetic rats.

A 2017 study also found an association between moderate alcohol consumption and a lower incidence of heart failure.


Consuming alcohol in excess may cause other heart-related conditions, such as cardiomyopathy — damage to the heart muscle — or arrhythmias, which are abnormal heart rhythms. These conditions may also increase the risk of a stroke.

Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes causes the body’s cells to take in less glucose, or sugar, from the blood as a result of insulin resistance. When the body’s cells do not respond to insulin and take up glucose, a person will have high blood sugar levels.

According to the American Diabetes Association, moderate alcohol consumption may improve blood glucose management and sensitivity to insulin.

A 2015 review associates moderate alcohol consumption with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. Additionally, the authors state that moderate alcohol consumption may improve insulin sensitivity for some people but not for all.

The researchers also suggest that alcohol may reduce hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) concentrations, or blood glucose levels. A person with diabetes is likely to have an HbA1c level of 6.5% or higher.

Overall, the studies had small sample sizes and short durations. More research is necessary to explore any further associations across bigger samples and longer time periods.


Excess alcohol intake has an association with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

Drinking alcohol can also reduce the body’s ability to recover when blood sugar levels drop. A person with diabetes should discuss with their doctor any effects that alcohol may have on their condition or medications.


A 2017 meta-analysis found an association between moderate alcohol consumption — 12.5 grams or less per day — and a reduced risk of dementia.

However, the same analysis states that excessive drinking — 38 grams or more per day — may increase the risk of developing dementia.

While moderate alcohol consumption may have some potential benefits, the negative effects of long-term or excessive alcohol drinking outweigh these benefits.

According to SAMHSA, in 2019, 25.8% of adults over age 18 reported that they had consumed alcohol excessively in the past month.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) classifies this as drinking five or more drinks on one occasion for men and drinking four or more drinks on one occasion for women.

Heavy drinking has an association with various health issues, such as:

Long-term heavy alcohol drinking has an association with an increased risk of:

Long-term alcohol drinking may also lead to alcohol use disorder, which involves difficulty stopping or regulating alcohol consumption despite negative social and health consequences.

Alcohol can also affect other parts of the body in both the short and the long term.


Alcohol has a diuretic effect on the body. This means that it increases urine output, which can affect the body’s hydration.

Dehydration can result in:

Alcohol can also cause facial flushing, a red appearance in the face.

Chronic overconsumption of alcohol may lead to:

Learn more about the effects of alcohol on the skin.


Drinking an excessive amount of alcohol can have a negative impact on the hair.

A 2022 review suggests that alcohol consumption may have an association with the immunological risk of alopecia areata. Alopecia areata is a type of hair loss that occurs when the immune system attacks the hair follicles.

Heavy alcohol drinking can affect the absorption of or increase the loss of zinc and other nutrients.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, people may experience hair loss if they do not consume enough of nutrients such as:


A 2017 study found that people who had a dependence on alcohol had a higher prevalence of dental issues — such as dental caries and periodontitis — than those who did not have a dependence on alcohol.

Similarly, another 2017 study found that participants with a dependence on alcohol had lower oral hygiene scores and a higher risk of dental and periodontal diseases.

A person can choose not to drink or to drink in moderation, as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest. To reduce drinking, a person may plan to have several drink-free days each week.

People can also reduce their risk of developing certain health conditions by making other lifestyle changes. For example, people can consume antioxidants through foods and nutrients such as:

To reduce health risks on any single occasion, a person may try:

  • limiting drinks
  • drinking more slowly
  • consuming food while drinking
  • alternating alcoholic drinks with water or other nonalcoholic drinks

Drinking in moderation may have some protective effects for the cardiovascular system. It may also increase insulin sensitivity in type 2 diabetes and reduce the risk of dementia.

However, the potential benefits do not outweigh the risks of alcohol consumption. Consuming alcohol can increase a person’s risk of developing other health conditions, such as cancer. It can also negatively affect the skin, hair, and teeth.

People can reduce their risk of certain conditions by modifying their diet and changing their drinking habits.