People are inclined to think that alcohol doesn’t present a major health risk. After all, it’s perfectly legal to drink. But the World Health Organization lists alcohol as the third greatest health risk after tobacco and high blood pressure. That’s because alcohol kills – and you don’t even have to be particularly heavy drinker for it to impact on your health.

Just a little too much…

You’re at risk if you’re a man who drinks more than a pint and a half of lager a day, or if you are woman who drinks more than one large glass of wine a day. Alcohol use promotes cancers, brain disorders, osteoporosis, heart disease and gastritis.

Not all of these are necessarily fatal, but both heart disease and cancer can kill you – and who wants to develop dementia? Of course, you never see any of this in alcohol advertising. It’s all glitz and glamour or rugged-looking, healthy men throwing back a pint of lager with ‘the boys’. No images of hospital beds feature – that’s ‘behind the scenes’ stuff that they’d prefer you not to know about.

Much too much now and then

There’s a lot of joking and a light-hearted attitude towards binge drinking. Hangovers, memory loss and, of course, the previous night’s party, are all seen as something to laugh about. But death from alcohol poisoning is no laughing matter. Six American die every day and 2,200 die each year, simply from drinking too much alcohol.

These people aren’t alcoholics. Many of them don’t drink all that regularly, and according to the CDC, 75% of them are aged 35 to 64. It’s not the sort of thing we even think about when heading out to ‘celebrate’ the weekend with a few drinks. In the popular mythology, alcohol poisoning only happens to college students – but reality paints a different picture. Most alcohol poisoning fatalities occur amongst the middle-aged.

And it really is only a few drinks away. You don’t have to polish off a bottle of bourbon or pile into the beer all that much to get potentially fatal alcohol poisoning.  Just five or more drinks places you at risk if you’re a man, and women reach the danger zone after only four drinks.

Much too much on a regular basis

At this point, we’re crossing the border between abuse and addiction. If you drink a lot and you drink often, you are at risk of reaching a point where you are no longer able to function without alcohol. And the health risks you face are very grave indeed.

80% of people who are admitted to hospital with liver disease use alcohol regularly. In very severe cases, irreversible damage has been done to the liver and it is impossible for the organ to function. 10% of liver cirrhosis patients will contract cancer of the liver. The CDC reports that over 18,000 people in the US die of alcohol-related liver cirrhosis every year.

And of course, all the other health risks related to alcohol are much more severe if you frequently drink too much.

How much is alcohol shortening your life span? There’s no way to be sure, but alcohol kills. It’s a fact that nobody can deny.

Death on the roads

10,076 traffic fatalities in the US involve alcohol-impaired drivers. That’s 31% of all deaths on the road. And 17% of road deaths in which children are killed involve a drunk driver. It’s all very well risking your own life, but when you drive drunk, you might end up having to live with the knowledge that you killed someone else.

What should you do?

Be aware of the risks that you face when you drink, and either don’t drink at all, or drink very moderately. Never binge drink.

If you can’t face that thought, you probably need help – even if you aren’t actually physically dependant on alcohol yet. Go for one on one counselling, consider joining group-therapy sessions, or book yourself into a rehabilitation center to detox and get your mind-set right for sober living.

Any of these might sound a bit radical – after all, just about everybody drinks. But it’s important to understand that problem drinking, though a common problem, should be treated as an illness and cannot be ignored. Just because a lot of other people share your problem, doesn’t mean that it isn’t serious. Take it seriously, and get help now. Remember: Alcohol kills! In total, excluding alcohol-related road accidents and homicides, more than 29,000 people in the US die from alcohol-related illnesses.