Substance Use: Prevention and Healthy Living

Substance use prevention activities focus on changing the way people think, feel, and act with regard to alcohol and other drugs. The goal is to build healthy communities by reducing harmful substance use or substance use that affects a person's overall well-being. 

April is Alcohol Awareness Month

Alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in Wisconsin. Alcohol Awareness Month provides an opportunity to highlight how alcohol use impacts the health and safety of individuals and communities. 

View the Alcohol Awareness Month proclamation from Governor Evers (PDF)

Alcohol: What you should know

Underage drinking is dangerous. Help prevent it.

Underage drinking isn’t harmless fun. School-aged children are going through a critical period of physical and emotional growth. Kids who drink during this time can suffer real damage—exposing their developing brains, lives, and mental health to serious, even deadly, consequences. Help the kids in your life understand the risks of underage drinking by having short, casual conversations with them starting at age 8. Visit the Small Talks campaign website for more information.


Stress drinking? There are safer ways to cope.

Increased stress can lead to an increase in alcohol use. Consider healthier options for coping with stress such as exercise, meditation, or reaching out to friends and family. Visit the Resilient Wisconsin website for more information


Concerned about your alcohol use? Take this questionnaire.

Ask yourself these four questions to determine if you should talk to a health professional about your use of alcohol.

  • Have you ever felt the need to cut down on drinking?
  • Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
  • Have you ever felt guilty about drinking?
  • Have you ever felt you needed a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover?

Two yes responses indicate the possibility that you may have an alcohol use problem. 

NOTE: The questions above are part of the CAGE questionnaire. The CAGE questionnaire is a screening tool. It is not intended to provide a diagnosis. Please consult your health professional if you have concerns about your use of alcohol.


Binge drinking costs everyone.

Binge drinking is defined as a pattern of alcohol consumption that brings the blood alcohol concentration level to 0.08% or more. This pattern of drinking usually corresponds to five or more drinks on a single occasion for men or four or more drinks on a single occasion for women, generally within about two hours. The negative health and social consequences of binge drinking are far-reaching and come at a great economic cost. In Wisconsin, the estimated annual economic cost of binge drinking is $3.9 billion. Review "The Burden of Binge Drinking in Wisconsin" report for more information.


Drinking and driving do not mix.

Alcohol use slows reaction time and impairs judgment and coordination, which are all skills needed to drive a car safely. The more alcohol consumed, the greater the impairment. Alcohol-related crashes killed 140 people in Wisconsin and injured 2,918 in 2019. Visit the Wisconsin Department of Transportation's website for more information.


Be an alcohol-free mother-to-be.

There is no known safe amount of alcohol use while trying to get pregnant or during pregnancy. All types of alcohol are equally harmful during this time, including all wines and beer. Learn more about fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.


Alcohol does not protect you from COVID-19.

Drinking alcohol does not protect you from COVID-19. In fact, drinking alcohol weakens your body’s ability to fight infections, increasing the risk of complications and making it harder to get better if you are sick. Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website for more information.

Alcohol: Frequently asked questions

About alcohol

What is alcohol?

Ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, is an intoxicating ingredient found in beer, wine, and liquor. Alcohol is produced by the fermentation of yeast, sugars, and starches.

Why do some people react differently to alcohol than others?

Alcohol affects every organ in the body. It is a central nervous system depressant that is rapidly absorbed from the stomach and small intestine into the bloodstream. Alcohol is metabolized in the liver by enzymes. However, the liver can only metabolize a small amount of alcohol at a time, leaving the excess alcohol to circulate throughout the body. The intensity of the effect of alcohol on the body is directly related to the amount consumed.

Drinking patterns

What is a standard drink in the United States?

A standard drink is equal to 14.0 grams (0.6 ounces) of pure alcohol. Generally, this amount of pure alcohol is found in

  • 12 ounces of beer (5% alcohol content).
  • 8 ounces of malt liquor (7% alcohol content).
  • 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol content).
  • 1.5 ounces or a “shot” of 80-proof (40% alcohol content) distilled spirits or liquor (gin, rum, vodka, whiskey).

Although the standard drink sizes are helpful for following health guidelines, they may not reflect customary serving sizes. A mixed drink, for example, can contain one, two, or more standard drinks, depending on the type of spirits and recipe. 

Is beer or wine safer to drink than liquor?

No. One 12-ounce beer has about the same amount of alcohol as one 5-ounce glass of wine or 1.5-ounce shot of liquor. It is the amount of alcohol consumed that affects a person most, not the type of alcoholic drink.

What does moderate drinking mean?

According to the "Dietary Guidelines for Americans," adults of legal drinking age can choose not to drink, or to drink in moderation by limiting intake to two drinks or less in a day for men and one drink or less in a day for women, when alcohol is consumed. Drinking less is better for health than drinking more.

What is excessive alcohol use?

Excessive alcohol use includes binge drinking, heavy drinking, any alcohol use by people under the age of 21, and any alcohol use by pregnant women.

What is binge drinking?

Binge drinking is defined as a pattern of alcohol consumption that brings the blood alcohol concentration level to 0.08% or more. This pattern of drinking usually corresponds to five or more drinks on a single occasion for men or four or more drinks on a single occasion for women, generally within about two hours.

What does it mean to get drunk?

“Getting drunk” or intoxicated is the result of consuming excessive amounts of alcohol. Binge drinking typically results in acute intoxication.

Alcohol intoxication can be harmful for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Impaired brain function resulting in poor judgment, reduced reaction time, loss of balance and motor skills, or slurred speech.
  • Dilation of blood vessels, causing a feeling of warmth but resulting in rapid loss of body heat.
  • Increased risk of certain cancers, stroke, and liver diseases (cirrhosis), particularly when excessive amounts of alcohol are consumed over extended periods of time.
  • Damage to a developing fetus if consumed by pregnant women.
  • Increased risk of motor-vehicle traffic crashes, violence, and other injuries.
  • Coma and death can occur if alcohol is consumed rapidly and in large amounts.

What does heavy drinking mean?

For men, heavy drinking is typically defined as consuming 15 drinks or more per week. For women, heavy drinking is typically defined as consuming eight drinks or more per week.

Health effects

What health problems are associated with excessive alcohol use?

Excessive drinking both in the form of heavy drinking or binge drinking, is associated with numerous health problems, including

  • Chronic diseases such as liver cirrhosis (damage to liver cells); pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas); various cancers, including liver, mouth, throat, larynx (the voice box), and esophagus; high blood pressure; and psychological disorders.
  • Unintentional injuries, such as motor-vehicle traffic crashes, falls, drowning, burns, and firearm injuries.
  • Violence, such as child maltreatment, homicide, and suicide.
  • Harm to a developing fetus if a woman drinks while pregnant, such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
  • Alcohol use disorders.

Can alcohol use cause cancer?

There is a strong scientific evidence that drinking alcohol increases the risk for cancer, including cancers of the mouth and throat, liver, breast (in women) and colon and rectum, and for some types of cancer, the risk increases even at low levels of alcohol consumption (less than 1 drink in a day). The evidence indicates that the more alcohol a person drinks, the higher his or her risk of developing an alcohol-associated cancer. The risk varies by many factors, such as the quantity of alcohol consumed and type of cancer. The "Dietary Guidelines for Americans" recommends that adults who choose to drink do so in moderation – one drink or less on a day for women or two drinks or less on a day for men. However, emerging evidence suggests that even drinking within the recommended limits may increase the overall risk of death from various causes, such as from several types of cancer and some forms of cardiovascular disease.

Special populations and alcohol

How do I know if it's okay to drink?

According to the "Dietary Guidelines for Americans" some people should not drink alcoholic beverages at all, including:

  • If they are pregnant or might be pregnant.
  • If they are under the legal age for drinking.
  • If they have certain medical conditions or are taking certain medications that can interact with alcohol.
  • If they are recovering from an alcohol use disorder or if they are unable to control the amount they drink.

To reduce the risk of alcohol-related harms, adults of legal drinking age can choose not to drink or drink in moderation by limiting intake to two drinks or less in a day for men or one drink or less in a day for women on days when alcohol is consumed. Individuals who do not drink alcohol should not start drinking for any reason. If adults of legal drinking age choose to drink alcoholic beverages, drinking less is better for health than drinking more. By following the "Dietary Guidelines for Americans," you can reduce the risk of harm to yourself or others.

I am young. Is drinking bad for my health?

Yes. Studies have shown that alcohol use by adolescents and young adults increases the risk of both fatal and nonfatal injuries. Research has also shown that people who use alcohol before age 15 are six times more likely to become alcohol dependent than adults who begin drinking at age 21. Other consequences of youth alcohol use include increased risky sexual behaviors, poor school performance, and increased risk of suicide and homicide.

Is it okay to drink when pregnant?

No. There is no known safe level of alcohol use during pregnancy. Women who are pregnant or plan on becoming pregnant should refrain from drinking alcohol. Several conditions, including fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, have been linked to alcohol use during pregnancy. Women of childbearing age should also avoid binge drinking to reduce the risk of unintended pregnancy and potential exposure of a developing fetus to alcohol.

Is it okay to drink when breastfeeding?

Not drinking alcohol is the safest option for breastfeeding mothers. Generally, moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages by a woman who is lactating (up to one standard drink in a day) is not known to be harmful to the infant, especially if the woman waits at least two hours after a single drink before nursing or expressing breast milk. Women considering consuming alcohol during lactation should talk to their health care provider.

Drinking and driving

Is it safe to drink alcohol and drive?

No. Alcohol use slows reaction time and impairs judgment and coordination, which are all skills needed to drive a car safely. The more alcohol consumed, the greater the impairment.

What does it mean to be above the legal limit for drinking?

The legal limit for drinking is the alcohol level above which a person is subject to legal penalties (arrest or loss of a driver’s license).

  • Legal limits are measured using either a blood alcohol test or a breathalyzer.
  • Legal limits are typically defined by state law, and may vary according to individual characteristics, such as age and occupation.

All states in the United States have adopted 0.08% (80 mg/dL) as the legal limit for operating a motor vehicle for drivers age 21 or older. However, drivers younger than 21 are not allowed to operate a motor vehicle with any level of alcohol in their system.

Note: Legal limits do not define a level below which it is safe to operate a vehicle or engage in some other activity. Impairment due to alcohol use begins to occur at levels well below the legal limit.

Alcohol use disorder

Do all excessive drinkers have an alcohol use disorder?

No. About 90% of people who drink excessively would not be expected to meet the clinical diagnostic criteria for having a severe alcohol use disorder. A severe alcohol use disorder, previously known as alcohol dependence or alcoholism, is a chronic disease. Some of the signs and symptoms of a severe alcohol use disorder could include:

  • Inability to limit drinking.
  • Continuing to drink despite personal or professional problems.
  • Needing to drink more to get the same effect.
  • Wanting a drink so badly you can’t think of anything else.
  • Drinking is a problem if it causes trouble in your relationships, in school, in social activities, or in how you think and feel. If you are concerned that either you or someone in your family might have a drinking problem, consult your personal health care provider.

How do I know if I have a drinking problem?

Drinking is a problem if it causes trouble in your relationships, in school, in social activities, or in how you think and feel. If you are concerned that either you or someone in your family might have a drinking problem, consult your personal health care provider.

What can I do if I or someone I know has a drinking problem?

Consult your personal health care provider if you feel you have a drinking problem. You can also call 211 or search the Wisconsin Addiction Recovery Helpline's website for information on services and supports in your community. Treatment is effective. Recovery is possible.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Resources to prevent all types of harmful substance use

Public awareness campaigns to prevent harmful substance use

Treatment is effective. Recovery is possible.

Call 211 or 833-944-4673 or visit addictionhelpwi.org to learn about local treatment services for an addiction to alcohol or other drugs. Pregnant women are given priority in treatment admissions. Call 911 in a life threatening emergency.

Last Revised: April 8, 2021