University Health Center, University of Georgia
Back to Alcohol and Other Drugs page

Long-Term Risks of Alcohol


Myths abound concerning what an alcoholic is or is not. In fact, we know that most alcoholics are not skid row derelicts. We know that alcoholics do not have to drink everyday, or alone, or in the morning. Furthermore, we know that 13% of males and 5% of females of college age are alcoholic, nationwide.

While there are many ways to assess alcoholism, perhaps the best checklist is that provided by the American Psychiatric Association. According to their criteria, the diagnosis of alcoholism can be made when three of the following symptoms have existed continuously for at least a month, or have occurred on a repeated basis over a longer period of time:

  • Alcohol is consumed in greater quantities or for longer periods of time than the person intended
  • The individual has a persistent desire to control or eliminate drinking, or has made one or more unsuccessful efforts to do this (for example, there are"cut down" resolutions, but these efforts disappear after a period of time)
  • Considerable time is spent in obtaining, using, or recovering from alcohol and its effects
  • Intoxication or its aftereffects (e.g., hangovers) frequently occur at times when the person is expected to fulfill work, family, or school obligations; or there is physically hazardous use (e.g., while driving)
  • The individual gives up or reduces social, recreational, or job/school-related activities because of alcohol use
  • Drinking continues despite the knowledge that alcohol causes the individual to have social, psychological, or medical problems
  • Withdrawal symptoms occur when initially attempting abstinence (e.g., flu-like symptoms, headaches, gastrointestinal distress, sweating, mood swings, irritability, anxiety)
  • Alcohol or other drugs are used to ward off the withdrawal symptoms

If you are concerned about these symptoms in yourself of someone you know, please see our resource section for information on programs and people to contact.

Other Medical Problems

Some other long-term effects of excessive alcohol consumption can include:

  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Increased risk of heart attack
  • Pancreatitis
  • Cancer of the mouth and throat
  • Cancer of the digestive system
  • Cirrhosis of the liver

In males, chronic heavy usage is associated with testicular atrophy and breast enlargement.

Women should be aware that consumption of as little as one drink while pregnant may cause the occurrence of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in their unborn children. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is associated with birth defects and mental retardation.

Another side effect of alcohol consumption is unwanted weight gain. A standard serving of alcohol has between 75 and 150 calories, depending on the type of drink, and merely adding one glass of wine a day to one's diet can result in a weight gain of ten pounds in a year. There are many more long-term effects. Please consult a qualified professional for further information about long-term medical problems associated with alcohol use.


Interactive Body: See the effects on some of the body's major organs.

Risky Business: Alcoholism: Getting the Facts