In addition to the immediate risks associated with alcohol use―loss of coordination, hangovers―there are other negatives. Here is a look at the most common risks.

By Sara Reistad-Long
Updated January 20, 2009
Miha Matei (Illustrations: Andrew Rea)

Can Increase the Risk of Breast Cancer

The perils of excessive drinking, specifically alcoholism and its attendant health issues, are well documented. Medium to heavy consumption has additional drawbacks. Research presented at the 2007 European Cancer Conference indicates that having three or more drinks a day may increase your risk of breast cancer by 30 percent. This news isn’t as dramatic as it first seems. A typical woman in her 50s already has about a 3 percent risk of the disease, so a 30 percent jump would bump her risk to nearly 4 percent. But most experts agree that this is reason enough to cut back.

Alcohol Can Stress Your Skin

The ethanol in alcohol dilates blood vessels, says David Colbert, a dermatologist in New York City. “Initially you might flush a bit during a night out,” he says. “But over time too much drinking can stretch the capillaries, sometimes to the point where they expand, giving your face a permanent red hue.”

Drinking Can Lead To Overeating

Alcohol doesn’t stimulate appetite per se, but if you’re struggling to control your eating, drinking can lower your inhibitions and weaken your resolve to steer clear of the cocktail nuts. According to a study published in the April 2007 issue of the journal Eating Behaviors, people who had a tendency to overeat consumed more food when drinking than did others who drank the same amount. “Alcohol often weakens our self-control and makes us more likely to prioritize immediate gratification over longer-term goals,” says Keith Humphreys, Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry at the Stanford University School of Medicine. In fact, there may be a physiological reason for this. Alcohol uses the body’s glucose reserves, and recently scientists at Florida State University, in Tallahassee, found that glucose fuels the brain and that willpower is weaker when those levels are low. In addition, other research points to low glucose as the reason people crave a big meal the day after a night out.

Too Much Alcohol Affects Your Sleep

Sure, alcohol can help put you to bed, since it’s a sedative. But the alcohol will also wake you up later on. Here’s why that happens: “To keep your brain alert in the face of sedation, the brain alters the activity of certain hormones. The net effect is excitation that counterbalances the sedation,” says Robert Swift, a psychiatrist and an associate director of the Brown University Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies, in Providence. But the effects of what you drink will wear off well before your system’s countermeasures do. “The relaxation effect goes away and you wake up in the middle of the night with your thoughts racing,” says Swift. To soften that imbalance, have your last drink two or more hours before you go to bed; this will help your brain to consciously unwind.