Drinking and your health—How much is too much?

How drinking alcohol affects your health

SHARE THIS ARTICLE

Topics

Last updated:
04/29/2021

How drinking alcohol affects your health?

After a few drinks, your inhibitions start to weaken. Your judgment becomes impaired, your coordination suffers and you may engage in risky behaviours. When it comes to drinking and your health, it’s important to know that there is no such thing as a “safe” level of alcohol consumption.

It can be difficult to know if the amount of alcohol you drink is okay. There isn’t a set number that would apply across all people (or even within the same person over time).

Does that glass of red wine sound great right about now? Maybe a glass of bubbly to start off New Year’s Eve? Or maybe you like whisky on the rocks, neat. But how much is too much, and is any amount actually safe? Who knows! As with most things in life, moderation is the key. The key word here being “moderation” — not abstinence.

Some people may be able to drink many drinks over time and not have any negative effects at all; these people are considered “high-volume drinkers.” But when others drink the same amount, they may have issues like alcohol dependence and related problems like liver disease, heart disease, high blood pressure, or certain cancers (stomach, liver, and esophageal cancers).

Some people are at greater risk for complications from drinking because of certain factors. They include:

  • Women are at greater risk than men due to the effects of higher levels of hormones in their bodies. Women’s bodies tend to break down alcohol at a slower rate because of less water and higher percentages of body fat. Women also have smaller stomachs than men, so they can’t handle as much food or alcohol. The liver breaks down alcohol in the bloodstream, and it is harder for a woman’s liver to break down alcohol.
  • People with a family history of alcoholism have a higher risk of developing alcohol problems. They may be more likely to drink too much or to become dependent on alcohol.
  • People with mental health problems like depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD, or anxiety are at increased risk of using alcohol as an “escape” from their problems. This can lead to drinking more than they planned and becoming dependent on alcohol. They also may stop taking their medicines because they don’t want the side effects or because they think that drinking will help them with their mental health issues better than their medicines do.
  • People with a history of drug or alcohol abuse, especially those who have been through treatment programs, are at increased risk of future problems. (1,2)

Is There Such a Thing as Safe Drinking?

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) recommends that people drink according to these two guidelines:

  • Women have no more than one drink per day. One drink equals: 1 oz. of “spirits” (80 proof, 40% alcohol), 1.5 oz. of wine (12% alcohol), or 12 oz. of beer (4% alcohol).
  • Men have no more than two drinks per day. Two drinks equals: 2 oz. of “spirits” (80 proof, 40% alcohol), 3.5 oz. of wine (12% alcohol), or 24 oz. of beer (4% alcohol).

No one should start drinking or drink more heavily based on these guidelines, nor should anyone drink more than the limits in these guidelines. Some people should not drink at all because they are at risk for problems even with one or two drinks a day.

Alcohol can be a safe and enjoyable part of life. If you choose to drink alcohol, the key is to keep your drinking at low to moderate levels. To find out if the amount of alcohol you drink could be harmful, take a short quiz Drinking and Your Health