Drinking alcohol is a recreational pastime that Americans use to celebrate good times and get through the bad, relax after work and ramp up for fun. It’s so integrated into our social norms and customs that no one would bat an eye if you were to say that you have a glass of wine (or a bottle of beer) every day. For years now, doctors and scientists have been peddling the idea that a little bit of alcohol can even be good for you.
However, people often forget that alcohol is a drug, just as heroin or meth is. So while we’ve all heard the adage “everything in moderation” does that apply to alcohol as well? In this article, we’ll explore how much alcohol is safe to drink daily–and if there’s such a thing as a safe consumption amount–and the potential risks of overstepping that threshold.
How Much Is Too Much: What Is Heavy Drinking?
Before diving into the dangers of drinking too much, we must first define what too much actually is. SAMHSA (the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) bases their definition of heavy drinking based on the frequency of binge drinking episodes (five or more in a single month). The NIAAA (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) has it broken down by the number of drinks and gender (4+ drinks a day or 14+ per week for men, 3+ drinks a day, or 7+ drinks in a week for women).
Did you notice that SAMHSA specifically cites binge drinking as part of its criteria? That’s because binge drinking and heavy drinking are not the same things. Though both represent unsafe levels of alcohol consumption and can increase the risk of causing alcohol addiction, binge drinking is more about drinks consumed over an episode, while heavy drinking speaks to a person’s drinking pattern on a more aggregate level.
However, even using these guidelines, there’s no universal measure of how much you have to drink to be considered an alcoholic. That is something that’s determined by genetic and environmental factors such as your gender, weight, metabolism, and even your stress levels.
What’s In A Drink: Standard Drink Sizes
If you think your drinking habits are in the clear, don’t celebrate just yet. The other crucial aspect of determining whether you drink too much is understanding what “one drink” looks like. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines a standard drink as one that contains 14 grams or 0.6 fl oz of pure alcohol. Since different types of alcoholic beverages contain different alcohol contents, the size of what a standard drink is considered to be:
- Beer: 12 fluid ounces
- Wine: 5 fluid ounces
- Liquor: 1.5 fluid ounces
So while you might only consume a single glass of alcohol, if that glass contains a greater amount of a certain alcohol type than what’s listed above, it technically counts as more than one drink.
Is There Any Amount of Alcohol That’s Safe To Drink?
The short answer: No. Researchers found that drinking more than 100 grams of alcohol a week, regardless of gender, was correlated with a shorter life expectancy. No matter how you look at it, not drinking will always be better for your health.
That being said, even a moderate drinking level (2 or fewer drinks a day for men and 1 or fewer for women) has the potential to be harmful. All that distinction means is that the health risks are comparatively lower than if you were a binge or heavy drinker. As such, moderate drinking habits are still a far cry from being harmless–or even healthy (We’re looking at you, red wine. A 2018 study debunked a long-held belief that the occasional glass of red wine could be good for the heart.).
Here are a few things that can happen if you drink every day:
- Gastrointestinal distress: Alcohol damages your stomach lining and can harm the helpful bacteria that live in the gut. Disturbing this delicate balance can lead to issues such as indigestion, nausea, and constipation.
- Weight gain: Alcohol is full of empty, sugary calories. It also slows the metabolism and makes workouts less effective, leading to reduced muscle gain.
- Poor sleep: Affecting virtually every system of the body, alcohol prevents the body from fully relaxing.
- Liver problems: The weight gain caused by excess drinking can also impact one of your most important organs. The fat damages the liver, causing inflammation which continues the cycle and ultimately leads to liver failure.
- Increased risk of cardiovascular disease: Higher blood pressure and higher cholesterol are two other consequences of alcohol consumption, making a perfect storm for stroke and heart failure.
If you or someone you know drinks daily or has tried to stop but to no avail, they might have a drinking problem. Talk to a professional at an addiction treatment center near you.