Alternative names 
Alcohol and diet; Diet - alcohol

Alcohol comes from fermenting starches and sugars. When consumed, alcohol depresses your nervous system and acts as a mild anesthetic and tranquilizer. It is toxic in large quantities.


Alcohol has about 7 calories per gram. These are considered “empty” calories because alcohol contains no beneficial nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals.

A 12-ounce beer contains about 150 calories. Carbonated beverages or fruit juices contribute additional calories when mixed with alcohol in a cocktail.

Beers, wines, and liquors all contain different amounts of alcohol. In general, a 12-ounce beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine, and 1.5-ounce shot of liquor have about the same amount of alcohol.

Beer is between 3-8% alcohol. “Light” or lower-calorie beers are closer to 3% alcohol. Liqueurs, such as sherry and dessert liqueurs, contain 40-50% alcohol and tend to be higher in calories.

White wines average 12%, and red wines are around 14%.

The “proof” is the alcohol content of distilled liquors. It is the percentage of alcohol multiplied by two. For example:

  • 50% alcohol = 100-proof alcohol  
  • 100% alcohol = 200-proof alcohol

Side Effects

Alcohol is an addictive substance.

Alcohol is a leading cause of traffic accidents in the United States because it slows reaction time and impairs your judgment.

The liver detoxifies (or metabolizes) alcohol. Continued, excessive use of alcohol can damage the liver You can develop alcoholic hepatitis and then a fatty liver. A fatty liver can progress to cirrhosis of the liver, a potentially fatal condition.

Alcohol is a risk factor for development of cancer of the esophagus, throat, larynx, mouth, and breast.

The presence of alcohol impairs the absorption of essential nutrients because it can damage the lining of the small intestine and the stomach where most nutrients are digested. Alcohol also requires some vitamins in its metabolism, and it interferes with the absorption and storage of some specific vitamins.

Alcohol can impair sexual function, even though it may increase your interest in sexual activity.

Alcohol intake during pregnancy has been identified as the cause of fetal alcohol syndrome.


If you drink it is best to do so ONLY in moderation. This means no more than one beer, one glass of wine, or one shot of liquor per day if you are a woman and no more than two if you are a man. Drinking more than that can substantially harm your health. Long-term or excessive use of alcohol may lead to alcoholism. And “problem drinking” (such as drinking and driving) is very risky and can endanger you and others.


For the safety of your baby, NEVER DRINK ALCOHOL DURING PREGNANCY. Alcohol in the bloodstream of the mother crosses the placenta and reaches the fetus. This can cause a condition called fetal alcohol syndrome - growth failure after birth, reduced IQ, and malformed facial features.


Here are some ways to drink responsibly, assuming that you DO NOT have a drinking problem:

  • ONLY drink if you are of legal age to do so.  
  • NEVER drink alcohol and drive a car. Have someone designated to drive if you’re going to drink, or plan an alternative way home, such as a taxi or bus.  
  • DO NOT drink on an empty stomach. Snack before and during alcohol consumption.  
  • Drink slowly to avoid becoming intoxicated and ONLY in moderation.  
  • If you are take medication, including over-the-counter medications, check with your pharmacist before drinking alcohol. Alcohol can intensify the effects of many medications and drugs and can interact with others, making them ineffective.  
  • DO NOT drink at all if you have a history of alcohol abuse.


Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 6, 2012
by Simon D. Mitin, M.D.

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.