What happens when you drink?

How alcohol affects you in the longer term

Drinking not only affects you at the time when you are drinking, but it can have longer-term effects that may be positive or negative. Your drinking pattern is a major factor in influencing your quality of life.

Heavy drinking (more than 4 drinks on any day or 14 per week) is associated with increased risk of a range of health and social harms, including damage to your internal organs, accidents and injuries, and difficulties in functioning positively in family, work and community life.  Liver damage is strongly associated with long-term heavy drinking and may culminate in cirrhosis.

Scientific studies have shown that alcohol consumption is associated with an increased risk of certain cancers, some cardiovascular conditions, alcohol use disorders, and liver disease. In general, risk increases with how much you drink, with heavy drinkers, including occasional binge drinkers, having the greatest risk. However, studies have shown that risk may begin to increase at light or moderate drinking levels for breast cancer and colorectal cancer and for certain cardiovascular conditions.

An individual’s risk for a given disease is also influenced by their family history of disease, current health status, nutrition, and lifestyle and environmental factors.


Moderate drinking can also be associated with positive health outcomes for some people, particularly middle-aged and older men and women. Benefits may be related to a reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases, adult onset diabetes, and slower cognitive decline as one ages.  Moderate drinkers may also enjoy the pleasures of drinking at meals and other social occasions where they make meaningful connections with family, friends and their community. Social interaction and sense of belonging can be important contributions to health and well-being. By no means is alcohol necessary for such well-being, but the social aspects of moderate drinking are enjoyed by many.

Here’s where you can learn more about the health effects of drinking.