As a result of excessive drinking, which is defined as anything more than two drinks a day for men or more than one drink a day for women, more than two million people in the U.S. have liver disease. Excessive drinking also increases the risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, inflammation of the pancreas and certain forms of cancer, especially cancers of the esophagus, mouth, throat, larynx and possibly the breast, colon and rectum.

Roughly 10 to 20 percent of heavy drinkers also develop alcoholic cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver, and liver transplants may be needed for those with life-threatening cirrhosis. In addition, Gibbons notes that "the more heavily you drink, the greater your risk for interpersonal problems."

On the other hand, studies have suggested that moderate drinking, or no more than two drinks a day for men or one drink a day for women, lowers a person's risk for heart disease, death by heart attack or stroke. By these measures, moderate drinkers fare better than both heavy drinkers and abstainers. Researchers believe moderate drinking helps ward off heart disease by thinning the blood and thus suppressing the formation of blood clots that can cause heart attacks and strokes. Alcohol also seems to enhance the body's ability to break down small clots.

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