How Many Drinks are Safe? [Plus 3 Questions to Ask Yourself]
Nine months into the pandemic, some people find themselves pouring a glass of wine or opening a beer more often than usual. On top of that, holiday meals and gatherings — even small, COVID-safe celebrations with your immediate family — often include alcoholic drinks. Whether you’re thinking about a special meal or your regular routine, you may be wondering if your drinking patterns are impacting your overall well-being.
How much alcohol is too much?
At what point do “a few drinks on a regular basis” start affecting my health?
While there are general guidelines you should follow, the answer of how much is too much depends on many individual variables, such as your age, current health, and medications you may be taking. The effects of alcohol also depend on specific circumstances, like how much you’ve had to eat or how hydrated you are before you start consuming drinks.
The holidays combined with the pandemic could lead some to drink more than usual during this season. This has the potential to not only impact your health but strain relationships. Trying to focus on gratitude for small things may help you resist the urge to overindulge.
How many drinks per day or per week are OK? [Guidelines are changing]
Current US dietary guidelines, which were developed in 1990, state that moderate alcohol use for healthy adults generally means up to one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men. Yet recent research has resulted in many physicians calling for lower limits.
A team of experts working on new US dietary guidelines says the limit for healthy adult men should also be one drink a day.
In addition, a 2018 research study suggested people should limit intake to no more than five drinks per week. The study, which was published in The Lancet medical journal, revealed that any more than five drinks a week can take years off of a person’s life. People who reported drinking more had higher rates of stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure, and fatal aortic aneurysms. The study included 600,000 people in 19 countries.
What is considered one drink? [Look at ounces and alcohol percentages]
People are often surprised at the small size that is considered one drink. One serving of alcohol is defined as:
- 12 ounces of beer (containing an average percentage of 5% alcohol)
- 5 ounces of wine (containing an average percentage of 12% alcohol)
- 1.5 fluid ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits (containing an average percentage of around 40% alcohol)
Many adults perceive a standard drink to be larger than these guidelines because restaurants and bars frequently serve heftier drinks. In fact, wine glasses have been getting larger over time, and today, they average a capacity of 15 oz.
To be sure you aren’t regularly drinking a super-sized beverage, try measuring your alcohol in a measuring cup at home several times. This can help you better estimate how much you are actually consuming when you are pouring a drink at home or eating out.
How does drinking impact my health? [Other than a headache the next day]
If you’ve been drinking alcohol regularly, you’re already familiar with short-term effects, such as a headache or fatigue the next day. However, doctors encounter patients who don’t realize having several drinks a day on a continual basis has led to more serious health consequences. These can include:
- Liver cirrhosis (damage to liver cells)
- Pancreatitis (an inflamed pancreas)
- Certain types of cancer, including cancer of the liver, mouth, throat, larynx, and esophagus
- High blood pressure
Am I headed toward a drinking problem? [3 questions to ask yourself]
Drinking responsibly requires an awareness of how much you, as an individual, can consume without becoming impaired or otherwise under the control of alcohol. If you feel like you are regularly drinking more than you should, it’s a good idea to talk to your primary care physician as a first step.
Here are three questions you can ask yourself to help gauge if your drinking habits are becoming harmful.
- Do you sometimes drink more than you planned to drink? If a few drinks with friends often turns into an entire evening or you find yourself skipping or delaying meals in order to enjoy a few more drinks, you need to seek help.
- How much time do you spend each week drinking? If it’s three or more nights a week, talk to your physician.
- Has your drinking negatively affected your social or family relationships? If your family or friends have commented on your drinking creating problems or asked you to slow down, it’s a sign you need to make some changes.
Need to Discuss Your Drinking Patterns?
Your primary care physician can provide guidance about alcohol consumption based on your individual health and current medications. LeBauer primary care physicians are dedicated to having honest conversations about health and lifestyle with patients.
If you need counseling or resources for addiction, LeBauer primary care doctors and counselors with LeBauer Behavioral Medicine can help. Counselors can also help family members who suspect a loved one has a problem. Our team can guide you to community resources and the steps needed to access help.