People drink alcohol to celebrate occasions, socialize, and for many other reasons. In this time of quarantine and stay-at-home orders, many people have been drinking more alcohol than they usually do, and maybe more than they should. While drinking alcohol is itself not necessarily a problem, too much alcohol consumption has many potentially serious health consequences. I thought this might be a good time to revisit the recommendations for alcohol consumption.
All alcohol is NOT equal.
Alcohol (ethanol) is found in beer, wine, and liquor. The percentage of alcohol in those drinks varies, not only between each category but also within each category. Some beers have a higher percentage of alcohol than others. The same applies to wine and liquor as well. You should be familiar with the percentage of alcohol present in the alcohol that you drink.
What is a standard alcoholic drink in the United States?
The recommended guidelines for alcohol intake include a specific number of “drinks” of alcohol, which we will discuss below. A standard drink is equal to 14.0 grams (or 0.6 ounces) of pure alcohol.
Here are some examples of what constitutes a standard drink:
- 12 ounces of beer – with a 5% Alcohol by Volume (ABV)
- 8 ounces of malt liquor – with a 7% ABV
- 5 ounces of wine – with a 12% ABV
- 1.5 ounces (one shot) of 80 proof (40% ABV) distilled spirits or liquor, such as gin, rum, vodka, or whiskey
Remember that some beer may have a higher ABV than others. If your beer has a 9% ABV, a 12 ounce serving would be equivalent to 1.8 drinks.
If you order a mixed drink cocktail, it may contain 2 or even 3 different spirits, and may be equivalent to 2 standard drinks or more! You should know what is in the cocktail that you order.
What are the recommended amounts of alcohol consumption?
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, if alcohol is consumed, it should be in moderation. Moderation is defined as up to one drink per day for women, and up to two drinks per day for men, and only by adults of legal drinking age. The Dietary Guidelines do not recommend that anyone start drinking who does not already drink alcohol. These guidelines also recommend that if alcohol is consumed, the calories from alcohol should be accounted for in your planning a healthy eating pattern.
Is one type of alcohol safer than another?
The short answer is no. As long as you are aware of the alcohol content, and base your measurement of alcohol consumption accurately, one type of alcohol is not safer than another. It is the amount of pure alcohol consumed that affects your health, not the type of alcohol.
Can you average your alcohol consumption by the week?
Some people like to think of the guidelines as a recommendation for the week, for instance, a woman should have no more than 7 drinks per week, and a man no more than 14 drinks per week. This is often the way the guidelines are represented. If a woman drinks 2 drinks every other day, and does not drink any alcohol on the alternate days, that would average out to one drink a day. This seems like a harmless idea. However, there is a limit to this ability to average. It is not healthy to drink all of your weekly alcohol “allowance” in one or even two days. This could be considered binge drinking.
What is considered excessive alcohol use?
Excessive alcohol use includes:
- Binge drinking
- Heavy drinking (8 or more drinks a week for women, 15 or more drinks a week for men)
- Any alcohol use by people under the age 21 minimum legal drinking age
- Any alcohol use by pregnant women
Who should not drink alcoholic beverages at all?
- Anyone younger than 21 years old
- Women who are or may be pregnant
- People who are planning to drive or operate machinery, or are participating in other activities requiring skill, coordination, or alertness
- People taking certain prescription and OTC medications that can interact with alcohol
- People with certain medical conditions
- People who are recovering from alcoholism or who are unable to control the amount they drink
What can you do to lower your alcohol intake?
This sounds obvious, but you can drink less often or drink less alcohol on the days that you drink. Here are some ideas for doing this.
- Make sure you have 2 days a week that you do not drink at all.
- Plan ahead regarding how much alcohol you will drink, and stick to the plan.
- Sip your drink slowly, so that one drink lasts longer.
- When making cocktails at home, use half the alcohol that is called for in the recipe. At a bar, ask the bartender for half the alcohol in your cocktail. Substitute a soft drink or fruit juice to make up the difference.
- Choose beer with lower ABV.
If you have any more questions just Ask Hanna, our health advisors are here to help.
Dr. Anita Bennett MD – Health Tip Content Editor
Image: ©Shutterstock / Syda Productions