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How Much Alcohol is Too Much?

Womans hand rejecting more alcohol from wine bottle in barSometimes at the end of a long, stressful day, you want a cold, crisp beer. Or two. Of course, when you’ve had a great day of work, you like celebrating with some wine or a cocktail then too. You mostly drink during the week, except when you’re socializing on the weekends, which is pretty frequent. There are tailgates, and wine with your book club ladies, and mimosas with your sister Sunday morning. Come to think of it; you can’t remember the last day you didn’t have a drink. But, you don’t have a drinking problem, do you?

If you’ve had this type of inner monologue with yourself, you’re not alone. When what feels like occasional drinking, or social imbibing turns into a daily ritual, how much alcohol is too much? Is one glass a day every day better or worse than five drinks on Saturday? How can you tell if your harmless habit is becoming a harmful dependence?

What is The Definition of Heavy Drinking?

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), for women, more than three drinks on any day or more than seven drinks in a week is considered heavy drinking that could put you at risk of an alcohol use disorder. For men, the NIAAA says that more than four drinks on any day or 14 per week is considered heavy drinking. Approximately one in four people who exceed these limits already has an alcohol use disorder, while the remainder faces an increased risk for developing such a problem.

The risks increase as heavy drinking consumption increases. The more days of heavy drinking, the more at-risk you become.

It is also necessary to understand what constitutes one drink since not all pours of wine, mixed drinks, and cans of beer are the same size. When monitoring your alcohol consumption, use these measurements as guidelines:

  • 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 such as gin, rum, vodka, or whiskey

What are the Risks of Heavy Drinking?

While an evening glass of wine with dinner every night may not sound like a quantity or behavior pattern that could be damaging or dangerous, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified the following dangers associated with heavy drinking:

Short-Term Risks:

  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Unhealthy sexual behaviors including having unprotected sex that could result in pregnancy or an STD
  • Motor vehicle crashes
  • Falls
  • Drownings
  • Burns
  • Violence including homicide, suicide, sexual assault, and physical abuse

Long-Term Risks:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Liver disease
  • Digestive problems
  • Cancer, including breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon
  • Dementia
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Lost productivity, family, or interpersonal problems
  • Alcohol dependency

How to Change Your Behavior

If your current alcohol consumption places you into the category of heavy drinking, begin monitoring your consumption habits, noting—in a journal if you find it helpful—the times when you are most interested in having a drink. Is it when socializing with friends, or home alone after a bad day? Set a limit on your daily and weekly consumption, replacing times when you would typically drink with healthier behaviors. For example, you could join a running group or volunteer in your community.

When to Get Help

If you are struggling to change your habits and believe you need help reducing your alcohol consumption levels, talk to your doctor or reach out to the patient support specialists at Horizon (716-831-1800). We can help you identify treatment options to redefine your relationship with alcohol and reclaim your health.