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Long-Term Heavy Drinking and Your Health

Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol over a long period of time can have very serious impacts for health and overall well-being.

What is heavy drinking?

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines heavy drinking by drinks in a day or a weekly total. Even just five or more days of heavy drinking or binge drinking in one month is considered heavy alcohol use.

  • For men, having five or more drinks on any day or 15 or more per week
  • For women, having four or more on any day or 8 or more drinks per week

Why is heavy drinking harmful?

Heavy drinking over a long period of time can increase an individual’s risk for alcohol use disorder and other serious health issues, including:

  • High blood pressure and heart disease
  • Liver disease
  • Problems with relationships with family and friends
  • Difficulty maintaining a job
  • Memory issues and dementia
  • Depression and anxiety

These risks can be reduced by cutting back or stopping drinking. There are a variety of supports available.

Higher risks in older adults

Older adults can be at increased risks when it comes to alcohol. And, data shows that 20 percent of adults ages 60-64 and 10 percent of those 65 and older report heavy drinking.

Why does alcohol impact older adults more than younger people? The normal process of aging can lower the body’s tolerance for alcohol. This can cause older adults to experience the effects of alcohol more quickly than when they were younger. This puts older adults at higher risks for:

  • Falls
  • Car crashes
  • Other injuries

Many older people take daily medications. When combined with alcohol, prescription and even over-the-counter drugs can become dangerous.

What are some of the long-term health risks of drinking alcohol?

Drinking too much alcohol over a long time can harm almost every part of your body. Alcohol can:

  • Lead to some kinds of cancer
  • Cause liver disease, including steatosis (or fatty liver), alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis
  • Cause brain damage, including Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WK syndrome), which used to be referred to as “wet brain.” Without treatment this can lead to permanent memory loss, and be life threatening.
  • Worsen some health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, memory loss, and mood disorders
  • Increase forgetfulness and confusion

Help for long-term drinking

It’s never too late to stop drinking. Many people need help to control drinking—you are not alone. There are resources and supports both in person and online/virtual to help those struggling with alcohol use, from treatment options to recovery groups and meetings:

Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS)

Offers 24/7 support statewide for recovery and treatment.

Call the Access Line 1-800-563-4086

Connecticut Community Addiction Recovery (CCAR)

Offers a range of recovery and support services both in person and online/virtual.


Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

National helpline.

Call 1-800-662-HELP(4357)

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

Find a meeting near you.

Find a meeting

Al-Anon and Alateen

If you are a family member or friend of someone with an alcohol use issue, consider attending an Al-Anon or Alateen meeting for support.

Find a meeting near you: Al-Anon / Alateen

For a list of more resources, including resources for older adults, visit our Resources page.