First, let’s start with some basics: in general, a “standard” alcoholic drink contains about 14 grams of pure alcohol (0.6 ounces) and is equal to the following:
- 12-ounces of beer or a cooler
- 8-ounces of malt liquor
- 5-ounces of wine
- 1.5-ounces or a “shot” of distilled spirits/liquor (e.g., rum, gin, vodka, whiskey)
What’s really important to remember is that it’s the amount of alcohol consumed, not the type of alcoholic drink consumed. Therefore, a 12-ounce beer has about the same amount of alcohol as one 5-ounce glass of wine or a 1.5-ounce shot of liquor, and they are all considered “one drink.”
So, how many alcoholic drinks per day are considered to be “okay”? There are many websites we can reference, but most, including the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), recommend that people keep to the following limits:
- For Women – no more than one drink a day, and
- For Men – no more than two drinks a day
Some think that this is extremely conservative, and there is some variation on these levels. More generous guidelines online suggest that, for women, the upper limit is as high as 2 drinks per day, and for men, closer to 3 drinks per day. Many guidelines also set weekly limits in addition to daily consumption levels. Essentially, women should not drink more than 1–2 drinks per day, and men should consume no more than 2–3 drinks per day (and preferably with meals for everyone).
You might be wondering why there are gender differences in the suggested guidelines. As it turns out, men’s bodies tend to be made up of more fluid than women’s bodies, meaning that alcohol is more diluted in a man’s body than in a woman’s. As a result, women tend to get drunk faster than men on the same amount of alcohol.
The Risks of drinking too much
What are the dangers of drinking too much alcohol? Drinking alcohol above the guidelines set forth here is associated with many consequences: a higher risk for developing certain health conditions, injury and even death from accidents, and disruptions to daily routines, responsibilities and relationships. Specifically:
- People who drink more than recommended are at increased risk for high blood pressure and heart disease, stroke, cirrhosis of the liver, pancreatitis, and certain cancers (mouth, throat, esophagus, neck, liver, and breast).
- Further, a startling statistic suggests that women who develop alcoholism have death rates nearly 75% higher than those of male alcoholics. Death from suicide, alcohol-related accidents, heart disease, stroke, cirrhosis of liver, etc. occurs more frequently in women than in men.
- Data we have access to suggests that only about 4% of U.S. adults are dependent on alcohol (i.e., alcoholics), but it’s estimated that each year, close to 25% of adults in the United States drink “too much,” and over 40% of motor vehicle deaths and injuries result from excessive alcohol use – the same is true of pedestrian accidents.
- Beyond drinking and driving, mixing alcohol with prescription medications, operating machinery like garden mowers and hedge clippers, or operating a power boat or an all-terrain vehicle are also dangerous combinations.
- Getting into domestic disputes with our spouses, other family members, or our neighbors and friends is another place where our drinking can get us into trouble. A higher percentage of violence, spousal and child abuse result from someone drinking too much.
- Neglecting responsibilities – like paying your bills on time, spending time with your families, and performing poorly at work – can also increase, with obvious consequences.
Alcohol Abuse or Dependency
Of course, one of the greatest problems is the ability to stop drinking if you or a loved one abuse alcohol or have become dependent on alcohol. There are many good websites that provide assessment tools to determine whether you or someone you know is at risk, including WebMD, the NIAA, and the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency, Inc. (NCADD).
The treatment for alcoholism is abstinence from drinking, but deciding to quit – and being able to quit – is hard. The NCADD and other sites have information on how to approach someone you care about to realize the problems that alcohol use is causing, and to get him or her to seek professional help and support. Although this can be extremely hard, studies find that more people with alcohol problems opt for treatment when their family members or employers are honest with them about their concerns, and try to help them see that drinking is preventing them from reaching their goals.