What is a “drink”?
In the United States, a standard drink contains 0.6 ounces (14.0 grams or 1.2 tablespoons) 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 of 80-proof (40% alcohol content) distilled spirits or liquor (e.g., gin, rum, vodka, whiskey).
What is excessive drinking?
Excessive drinking includes binge drinking, heavy drinking, and any drinking by pregnant women or people younger than age 21.
- Binge drinking, the most common form of excessive drinking, is defined as consuming:
- For women, 4 or more drinks during a single occasion.
- For men, 5 or more drinks during a single occasion.
- Heavy drinking is defined as consuming:
- For women, 8 or more drinks per week.
- For men, 15 or more drinks per week.
Most people who drink excessively are not alcoholics or alcohol dependent.
Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) – Differences Between Women and Men
- Women have less of a particular enzyme (gastric alcohol dehydrogenase) than men do that breaks down alcohol in the stomach. As a result, more alcohol is absorbed within a woman’s body and leads to a higher BAC than in men.
- In general, women have less body water than men resulting in a higher BAC for women.
- In general, men have a greater ratio of muscle to fat than do women. Muscle has a large amount of blood that flows through the muscle tissue. Fat has a much smaller amount of blood. The functional difference this makes is that alcohol is more diluted in a man’s body due to this larger volume of blood. Since women tend to have a higher percentage of body fat than men, this results in a higher BAC level for women compared to men.
What is moderate drinking?
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans defines moderate drinking as up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men. In addition, the Dietary Guidelines do not recommend that individuals who do not drink alcohol start drinking for any reason.
However, there are some people who should not drink any alcohol, including those who are:
- Younger than age 21.
- Pregnant or may be pregnant.
- Driving, planning to drive, or participating in other activities requiring skill, coordination, and alertness.
- Taking certain prescription or over-the-counter medications that can interact with alcohol.
- Suffering from certain medical conditions.
- Recovering from alcoholism or are unable to control the amount they drink.
By adhering to the Dietary Guidelines, you can reduce the risk of harm to yourself or others.
Short-Term Health Risks
Excessive alcohol use has immediate effects that increase the risk of many harmful health conditions. These are most often the result of binge drinking and include the following:
- Injuries, such as motor vehicle crashes, falls, drownings, and burns.
- Violence, including homicide, suicide, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence.
- Alcohol poisoning, a medical emergency that results from high blood alcohol levels.
- Risky sexual behaviors, including unprotected sex or sex with multiple partners. These behaviors can result in unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.
- Miscarriage and stillbirth or fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) among pregnant women.
Long-Term Health Risks
Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases and other serious problems including:
- High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive problems.
- Cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon.
- Learning and memory problems, including dementia and poor school performance.
- Mental health problems, including depression and anxiety.
- Social problems, including lost productivity, family problems, and unemployment.
- Alcohol dependence, or alcoholism.
By not drinking too much, you can reduce the risk of these short- and long-term health risks.