7 Most Common Alcoholic Beverages and Their Effects on the Body and Mind

  • September

    ALCOHOL HAS BEEN INGESTED FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS during celebrations, religious events, spiritual ceremonies, cooking, as an antiseptic, cough suppressant, analgesic, cold and flu remedy, mouth wash, and botanical tincture.

    It also has other less known functions such as: engine fuel (ie. rocket fuel), fuel for real flame fireplaces without logs or coals, paints, perfumes, and deodorants.

    Modern day use still includes celebrations and medicinal use, however more and more people turn to alcohol for it’s sedative effects to cope with anxiety and stress and to “let loose”.

    What is Alcohol?

    Chemically, alcohol is an organic compound with a hydroxyl group (Oxygen + Hydrogen bound to a saturated carbon, OH-C-R3…). The suffix -ol appears in the IUPAC chemical name of all substances where the hydroxyl group is the functional group with the highest priority (ie. methanol or cholesterol). The general formula for a simple alcohol is CnH2n+1OH.

    In alcoholic beverages, the hydroxyl group is attached to 2 saturated carbons to give a biochemical structure of CH3-CH2-OH. It is often abbreviated as C2H5OH, C2H6O or EtOH, otherwise known as ethanol.

    Ethanol (aka alcohol) is made by fermenting (and sometimes distilling) grains, fruits, or plants. Fermentation is a process in which yeast convert sugars into alcohol. Alcohol itself is a clear liquid. The color comes from the fermentation processes and other added ingredients.

    Alcohol is a neurotoxic and psychoactive substance. It is one of the oldest recreational drugs used by humans and can cause alcohol intoxication when consumed in sufficient quantities.

    When alcohol reaches the brain, it has the ability to delay signals that are sent between nerve cells that control balance, thinking and movement.

    Are you Addicted to Alcohol?

    About 1 person in 20 who drink is dependent on alcohol (CAMH). Answer these 4 questions below (Yes/ No):

    1. C– Have you ever felt you needed to Cut down on your drinking?
    2. A– Have people Annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
    3. G– Have you ever felt Guilty about drinking?
    4. E– Have you ever felt you needed a drink first thing in the morning (Eye-opener) to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover?

    If you answered “Yes” to the majority of the CAGE questions, it’s time to re-evaluate your relationship to alcohol and seek help. Help from a friend, family member, alcoholic support group or health professional.

    Many people use alcohol (even in moderation) to calm their nerves, anxiety, depression, negative thoughts and stress. Some people turn to alcohol to help them cope with life. They feel a strong bond, almost like a best friend. We’ll learn more about coping with stress later in this article.

    Who Should Avoid Alcohol?

    The per cent or concentration of alcohol (and not the type) in a beverage will influence the effects on the body and mind. The size of the person and gender can play a role in alcohol tolerance but also your physical health (especially your liver) and your unique ability to breakdown and eliminate alcohol.

    Because of the psychological effects, alcohol is not recommended for underage adolescents (18-21 years old depending on the country) or people with moderate to severe mental issues.

    One standard drink (13.6g of alcohol) requires about 1.5 hours to eliminate from your body. The liver is the primary detoxifying organ to convert alcohol to a safe product for elimination by the kidneys. People on multiple medications or drugs should monitor their alcohol intake to avoid complications. As well, people with liver and kidney dysfunction should avoid consuming alcohol.

    Alcohol comparison chart for one standard drink (13.6g of alcohol)

    Alcohol comparison chart for one standard drink (13.6g of alcohol)

    Pregnant and breast-feeding women are discouraged from drinking alcohol due to potential negative effects of fetal development and mental function. Babies may be born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) to a pregnant mother who consumes alcohol. Minimal amounts of alcohol away from breast-feeding times may be safe. If you are having trouble conceiving, quitting alcohol (and other recreational drugs) for both the male and female partners will increase fertility success.

    If you have digestive problems, such as an ulcer or GERD, alcohol can worsen the symptoms. Alcohol stimulates gastric juice production, even when food is not present, and can increase acidic levels in the gut harming damaged cells and increasing inflammation.

    Alcohol should also be avoided in people with malabsorption issues or are malnourished. Many people who drink excessive alcohol are often malnourished due to the simple fact that they are drinking their calories through alcohol and not eating adequate nutritious food. Many co-morbid conditions can develop from lack of vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein, healthy fats and water.

    There are some people (like myself) who are allergic, intolerant or sensitive to alcohol. Some people have dangerous responses to alcohol, such as alcohol-induced respiratory reaction. This can be a life-threatening condition with even minimal alcohol intake.

    Meanwhile, others lack an enzyme that helps break down alcohol to be absorbed in it’s basic units — alcohol dehydrogenase deficiency.

    When I have even 1/2 a glass of wine, my face and neck get swollen and red. This means I have a lower tolerance to alcohol and need to keep my intake lower than an average person of my height and weight.

    As you can see, the "Asian Flush" runs in the family.

    As you can see, the “Asian Flush” runs in the family.

    Alcohol can cause these short-term allergy-like symptoms of itchy skin, hives, rash, flushing of the skin, difficulty breathing (especially with asthmatics), heart palpitations, racing heart and digestive issues.

    Therefore, any people with inflammatory, acute cardiovascular and atopic conditions (ie. asthma, eczema, etc.) should avoid consuming alcohol in large quantities.

    Long-term heavy consumption of alcohol can lead to:

    • brain and nerve damage
    • high blood pressure and strokes
    • liver disease
    • metabolic syndrome (ie. diabetes, BPH, obesity)
    • damage to the fetus, for pregnant women
    • diseases of the stomach, digestive system and pancreas
    • breast cancer and throat cancer
    • low sex hormone levels
    • malnutrition
    • systemic inflammation
    • alcohol dependency
    • psychological dependency

    Each year, about 6,700 Canadians die as a result of drinking alcohol — car crashes, other accidents, suicides and murders, and health problems related to alcohol use (CAMH).

    But I Thought Alcohol was Healthy?

    Alcohol can actually be used as medicine when combined with certain plants, extracted with the proper processes and given at correct dosages for a particular condition. Botanical tinctures made with medicinal herbs and an alcoholic base can be healing for the mind and body. People have used plants as medicines for centuries, it’s a science and art to treat effectively and safely.

    An alcoholic drink however is not as therapeutic, but may be healthy for you in moderation. Depends on your health status, the alcohol concentration and what it is mixed with it, a moderate amounts of alcohol can benefit a healthy body in various ways. Read to the end to see the healthiest drinks by Greatist. For now, let’s take a look at the 7 most common alcoholic beverages and their effects on the body and mind.

    7 Most Common Alcoholic Beverages and Their Effects on the Body and Mind

    1. Coolers and Alcopops (Per 12 oz/341 ml serving)

    • Type and alcohol content:  sparkling grape juice (<0.1%), wine coolers (4-7%), wine breezers (4-7%), alcopops (4-7%)
    • How it’s made: A combination of wine, sugar and fruit juice often added to a carbonated beverage; some are mixed carbonated drinks with liquor (ie. vodka, rum)
    • Health facts: little if no nutrient value and high sugar content
    • Recommended amount: none
    • Health cons: The phosphoric acid content from soda pop and carbonated beverages can displace calcium absorption into bone and decrease bone mineral density (Supplee). The high sugar content of these beverages and lack of nutrient value makes coolers a poor alcoholic choice
    • Who should avoid: Heart conditions, diabetes, obese

    2. Cider (Per 12 oz/341 ml serving)

    • Type and alcohol content: 2-8% alcohol
    • How it’s made: Fermented juice of apples or pears (still), sometimes combined with carbonation (sparkling)
    • Health facts: Apples contain some vitamin C and antioxidants, such as polyphenols (Marks)
    • Good for: Celiac disease (gluten-free); reduces the risk of diabetes, asthma, cancer, neurodegenerative conditions and heart disease
    • Recommended amount: women – 1 glass per day, men – 2 glasses per day maximum
    • Health cons: Cider has a much higher sugar content than beer (up to 7 tsp of sugar per serving of sweet ciders)
    • Who should avoid: Allergies to apple or pear

    3. Beer (Per 12 oz/341 ml serving)

    • Type and alcohol content: Lager (4-5%), stout (5-10%), brown ale (4-6%), porter (4-5%)
    • How it’s made: Yeast eats the broken down sugars found in starches, such as germinated cereal grains (ie. malted barley), produces alcohol and is combined with hops (plant with phytoestrogen properties – aka healthy estrogens).
    • Health facts: Beer can contain significant amounts of magnesium, selenium, potassium, phosphorus, biotin, folic acid and B vitamins. Typically, the darker the brew, the more nutrient dense. Phenolics (ie. meladoidins) are natural antioxidants formed when barley or malt is heated. Hops also contains flavonoid antioxidants (ie. Xanthohumol) that has been shown to prevent cancer (Stevens)
    • Good for: Reducing heart disease (Costanzo, Rimm), high homocysteine levels, menopausal “hot flashes”, osteoporosis, and potentially kidney stones and cancer prevention
    • Recommended amount: Women – 1 glass per day, men – 2 glasses per day maximum
    • Health cons: Healthy in moderation
    • Who should avoid: Celiac disease with wheat-based beer; Gout
    • Fun Factoid: The alcohol content of beers is limited by the yeast at 10%, however some companies are now freezing their beer and extracting the ice to increase the alcohol concentration (ie. Tactical Nuclear Penguin beer at 32% alcohol)

    4. Wine (Per 5 oz/140 ml serving)

    • Type and alcohol content: Table wine (8-14%), shiraz (10-14%), rose (10.5%), medium white (10.7%), dry white (10-12%), cabernet (11-14%), barley wine (10-15%), cabernet (11-14%), pinot noir (11-14%)
    • How it’s made: Wine involves a longer fermentation process than beer because the yeast needs more time to eat up the sugar in grapes and convert it to alcohol. White wine uses only the juice of grapes, while red wine includes the skin and seeds.
    • Health facts: Wine contains less minerals and B vitamins than beer. Compared to white wine, red contains more potassium, iron and antioxidant phenolics (ie. Reservatrol from the skin of grapes). Pinot noir has the highest concentration of reservatrol per serving and best absorbed with a meal.
    • Good for: Cardiovascular disease prevention (Costanzo, Rimm), high cholesterol, cancer
    • Recommended amount: Women – 1 glass per day, men – 2 glasses per day maximum
    • Health cons: Healthy in moderation
    • Who should avoid: Tannin allergies or sensitivities for red wine

    5. Fortified Wines- aka dessert wine (Per 3 oz/ 85 ml serving)

    • Type and alcohol content: Sherry (17-22%), Port wine (16-20%), Vermouth (15-18%)
    • How it’s made: A distilled liquor (usually brandy) is added to wine before the fermentation process is complete. The alcohol from the liquor kills the yeast and leaves residual sugars behind, resulting in a wine that is both sweeter and stronger than wine
    • Health facts: Fortified wines contain more sugar and alcohol content than wine. Health benefits are similar due to the wine base, however more moderate intake is suggested.
    • Good for: Cardiovascular disease prevention (Costanzo, Rimm), high cholesterol, cancer
    • Good with: An aperitif (before meal alcohol) or a dessert wine option. Many cheeses, nuts, cream-based desserts, chocolate desserts and fruit torts compliment a fortified wine
    • Recommended amount: 1 serving per day max
    • Health cons: Greater sugar content than wine
    • Who should avoid: Tannin allergies or sensitivities
    • Fun Factoid: Most fortified wines age in wood casks and benefit from decanting and aeration before enjoying

    6. Liquor- aka Spirits (Per 1.5 oz/ 43 ml serving)

    • Type and alcohol content:
      • Vodka (35-50%) – most simple of the spirits, starting at 96% pure spirit and diluted down to ~40%. Made from wheat or potato.
      • Gin (37.5%) – vodka that has been redistilled or infused with juniper and other botanical flavors
      • Tequila (40-50%) – a type of mezcal spirit from Mexico made from >51% Blue Agave
      • Brandy (Cognac and Armagnac 42%) – distilled wine made from grapes and other sweet fruit with an alcohol concentration of 8-12% and high acidity
      • Rum (37-57%) – produced from cane sugar or molasses during the refining process
      • Whiskey (40-53%), cask strength Whiskey (60%) – made from fermented grains (barley, wheat, corn, etc)
      • Sake (14-16%), Absinthe (55-90%), neutral grain Spirits (95%), rectified Spirits (96%), absolute alcohol (96-98%)
    • How it’s made: Following fermentation of beer or wine, a process called distillation separates the water from the alcohol, resulting in higher alcohol concentrations of at least 20%
    • Healthy facts: Spirits are virtually devoid of nutrients, including vitamins and minerals. Matured spirits such as whiskey and brandy, contain phenolics, which are derived from the wooden barrels they are matured in.
    • Good for: Potential heart disease prevention (Rimm)
    • Recommended amount: For occasional celebrations or 1 non-mixed drink per night
    • Health cons: Spirits are devoid of nutrient but often mixed with other beverages (ie. soda, juice, energy drinks) that can offer a negative effect on the body
    • Who should avoid: Celiac disease with wheat-based liquor (ie. Vodka, whiskey, gin), tannin allergies or sensitivities with grape-based liquor

    7. Champagne and Sparkling Wine

    • Type and alcohol content: Sparkling wine (8-12%)
    • How it’s made: A second fermentation process of wine occurs in the bottle, trapping carbon dioxide by-products to produce the bubbles
    • Health facts: The antioxidants (ie. polyphenols) in red wine can be found in sparkling wine with slightly less sugar content
    • Good for: Lowering blood pressure, heart disease and cancer prevention (Vauzour)
    • Recommended amount: occasional celebrations or 1 drink per night
    • Health cons: Sparkling wine is highly acidic and can cause breakdown of tooth enamel and exacerbate digestive conditions
    • Who should avoid: Tannin allergies or sensitivities
    • Fun Factoid: Champagne is a type sparkling wine made from the grapes grown in the Champagne region of France and is most commonly associated with the monk Dom Perignon (1638-1715).
    Alcohol content of a standard drinks - Photo credit: educalcool.qc.ca

    Alcohol content of a standard drinks – Photo credit: educalcool.qc.ca

    Drinking Tips

    1. It’s best to eat and drink lots of water when consuming alcohol to prevent the dreaded “hangover”.
    2. Pick drinks that you can sip slowly and enjoy.
    3. Don’t drink for the sake of “getting drunk”.
    4. Drink responsibly and don’t drive under the influence.

    🍷 If you drink one glass of red wine with dinner you are probably doing your body a great service. But when is it too much?

    Red wine has an ingredient called reservatrol, which is a fantastic anti-oxidant and health promoter. If however, you drink a whole bottle per night you will be harming your body and mind.

    Regular and excessive drinking of alcohol is a key indicator of a poor coping skills for mental and emotional stressors. It can also a sign of poor lifestyle habits and dietary habits. Drinking is often associated with partying, poor sleep patterns, poor nutrition, irregular eating habits, eating convenience foods, smoking, poor judgement, careless acts and more promiscuous activities. And it can also be a gateway to other recreational and illegal drug use.

    But it can also be a lot of fun and a way to relax if you’re shy, anxious or exhausted from a long day. So…

    How much alcohol do you drink on a week night?
    How much alcohol do you drink on a weekend?

    If it’s more than 1-2 drinks a day, are you using it as a coping strategy for stressor in your life?
    What is the stressors?

    How could you decrease your stress and manage it in a healthier way. Come up with at least 3 ideas:


    Stress affects us all. It impair our thoughts, actions and creativity. It can take on many masks and accumulate over time. Too little stress and too much stress can both have negative effects on the mind and body. Creating healthy habits and setting firm boundaries are ways to develop a healthy state of mind.

    Click here to read “8 Healthy Ways to Effectively Manage Stress“.

    Getting help

    Alcoholism is characterized by a lack of control over excessive alcohol consumption despite significant negative consequences (NCBI).

    If you answered Yes to most of the CAGE questions above or suspect that you are dependent on alcohol, there is help. Don’t wait to reach out.

    There are many approaches to quitting. Some prefer a cold turkey approach, which can make a person feel very ill for a period of time, while other choose to cut down over a few months before coming off completely. For alcoholics or people with a family history of addictions, it is recommended that they seek professional help and get community support:

    Your doctor. Primary care and mental health practitioners can provide effective alcoholism treatment by combining new medications with counseling visits. To aid clinicians, NIAAA has developed two guides: Helping Patients Who Drink Too Much, and for younger patients, Alcohol Screening and Brief Interventions for Youth: A Practitioner’s Guide.

    Specialists in alcohol use disorders. For specialty addiction treatment options, contact your doctor, health insurance plan, local health department, or employee assistance program. Other resources include:


    American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry

    American Psychological Association
    1–800–964–2000 (ask for your State’s referral number to find psychologists with addiction specialties)

    American Society of Addiction Medicine
    301–656–3920 (ask for the phone number of your State’s chapter)

    NAADAC Substance Abuse Professionals

    National Association of Social Workers
    www.helpstartshere.org (search for social workers with addiction specialties)


    Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator


    Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
    212–870–3400 or check your local phone directory under “Alcoholism”

    Moderation Management

    Secular Organizations for Sobriety

    SMART Recovery

    Women for Sobriety


    Al-Anon Family Groups
    1–888–425–2666 for meetings

    Adult Children of Alcoholics


    National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

    National Institute on Drug Abuse

    National Institute of Mental Health

    National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information

    Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s Information Centre
    1 800 463-6273

    Kids Help Phone
    1 800 668-6868

    Ontario Drug and Alcohol Registry of Treatment
    1 800 565-8603

    R. Samuel McLaughlin Addiction and Mental Health Information Centre (CAMH)
    Ontario toll-free: 1 800 463-6273; Toronto 416 595-6111

    Research shows that most people who have alcohol problems are able to reduce their drinking or quit entirely.

    There are many roads to getting better. What is important is finding yours.

    The healthiest drinks from the Greatist:

    The healthiest drinks from the Greatist.com

    The healthiest drinks from the Greatist.com

    Note: Drink types produced by a wide variety of companies (e.g., wine) and with many flavors and styles (e.g., margarita mix and cider) may vary from bottle to bottle. The data above represents an average of the most common and popular varieties.

    Research by Sophia Breene. Graphic by Kim Steinhilber

This website is NOT to be used as a diagnostic or treatment tool. Always consult with your Conventional Medical Doctor or Naturopathic Doctor for specific concerns. In cases of medical emergencies visit your nearest hospital or call 9-1-1.