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For Some Drinkers Moderate Consumption Is Not Possible

How Much Alcohol Is Consider
A Moderate Level of Consumption?

By BuddyT

If you are going to consume alcohol at all, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture's "Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020" recommends that it should be in moderation.

You may have heard that moderate drinking can be good for some aspects of your health. Although some studies have disputed the heart health benefits of consuming alcohol, even those who claim the benefits insist that drinking must be at the moderate level.

So, exactly home much alcohol is a moderate amount? It's not much:

One drink a day for women, and no more than two drinks at day for men.

That's it. That is all the alcohol you can drink and remain in the moderate consumption level. Any amount above this amount and your drinking has cross over into the "at risk" category, opening you up to a long list of alcohol's harmful consequences.

Here are the different levels of drinking alcohol, as defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA):

Moderate Drinking

One drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men.

Binge Drinking

The NIAA defines binge drinking as "a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 g/dL." For most people, this means 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men within a period of about 2 hours.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is a bit different. It defines drinking as 5 or more alcoholic drinks for males or 4 or more alcoholic drinks for females on the same occasion (i.e., at the same time or within a couple of hours of each other) on at least 1 day in the past month.

Heavy Alcohol Use

SAMHSA defines heavy alcohol use as binge drinking on 5 or more days in the past month.

Low-Risk Drinking

High-risk drinking is consuming alcohol at a rate that puts you at risk for developing an alcohol use disorder. In order to remain at low-risk levels, the NIAAA uses the following definition:

For women, no more than 3 drinks on any single day and no more than 7 drinks per week. For men, no more than 4 drinks on any single day and no more than 14 drinks per week.

According to NIAAA research indicates that only about 2 in 100 people who drink within these "low-risk" limits have an alcohol use disorder. However, "low risk" does not mean no risk at all.

No Safe Level of Drinking

Of course, for some groups, there is no safe level of drinking at all. Those who should avoid the use of alcohol completely include those who:

  • Plan to drive a vehicle or operate machinery
  • Take medications that interact with alcohol
  • Have a medical condition that alcohol can aggravate
  • Are pregnant or trying to become pregnant

You can add to the above list those who are alcoholics or who are already at risk for developing alcohol use disorders due to family, cultural, or environmental factors.

What Is a Standard Drink?

If moderate drinking is only 1 drink a day for women, and up to 2 a day for men, it brings up the question, what exactly constitutes a "drink?"

Below is a chart from the Dietary Guidelines that show how many "drink equivalents" are contained in some popular beverage choices:

Alcoholic Drink-Equivalents of Select Beverages

Drink DescriptionDrink-Equivalents
Beer, Beer Coolers, and Malt Beverages
12 fl oz at 4.2% alcohol0.8
12 fl oz at 5% alcohol (reference beverage)1
16 fl oz at 5% alcohol1.3
12 fl oz at 7% alcohol1.4
12 fl oz at 9% alcohol1.8
5 fl oz at 12% alcohol (reference beverage)1
9 fl oz at 12% alcohol1.8
5 fl oz at 15% alcohol1.3
5 fl oz at 17% alcohol1.4
Distilled spirits
1.5 fl oz 80 proof distilled spirits (40% alcohol)1
Mixed drink with more than 1.5 fl oz 80 proof distilled spirits1+

Learn more about the effects of alcohol.


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