An occasional alcoholic beverage is generally fine for most adults. But one issue with alcohol is that the line between a healthy drinking habit and drinking too much is often blurry.
Defining the Line Between Occasional and Too Much
According to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, adults of legal drinking age should limit alcohol intake in any given day to two drinks or less for men and one drink or less for women. You shouldn't interpret this guideline to mean you can abstain during the week and have five drinks on Saturday night. It's the maximum amount of alcohol that should be consumed on a single day.
One issue: Many people aren’t honest about how much they drink. They feel that as long as they’re not drinking heavily on a regular basis, they don’t have a problem with alcohol. So if they get together with friends over the weekend, they think it’s okay no matter how many drinks they consume. Or they don’t pay attention to serving sizes, so they underestimate their consumption.
What you consider a “healthy” drinking habit may still be harmful to your health.
How Should Drinks be Measured?
One alcoholic drink is equivalent to the following:
- 12 fluid ounces of regular beer (5% alcohol)
- 5 fluid ounces of wine (12% alcohol)
- 1.5 fluid ounces of 80 proof distilled spirits (40% alcohol)
Drinking Too Much?
Many people drink more alcohol than what is safe or healthy. When developing the current Dietary Guidelines, approximately 60% of adults surveyed reported consuming alcoholic beverages. Of those, approximately 30% binge drink, sometimes multiple times per month.
Binge drinking means five or more drinks for males or four or more drinks for females in about 2 hours. Even when not binge drinking, many people’s alcohol consumption exceeds current guidance.
Drinking too much alcohol can contribute to serious health issues, including:
- Liver damage
- Increase cancer risk
- Heart disease
Plus, alcoholic beverages supply calories but few nutrients, making it harder to lose or maintain weight. Alcohol can also impair your judgment and reaction time. This makes it dangerous to drive and increases your risk of accidental injury and poor decision making. Emerging evidence suggests that even drinking within the recommended limits may increase certain conditions' overall risk, including some cancers.
How to Drink Less
It’s okay to enjoy a drink or two on occasion, as long as you don’t have health conditions that would make drinking in any amount unhealthy. But if you drink more than that, here are a few tips for lowering your alcohol consumption.
Concerned about Your Drinking Habit?
Struggling with trying to drink less? Talk with your provider about treatment and support options.
Find Alternatives for Your Habit
Sometimes drinking becomes entwined with other habits. For example, you always have wine with dinner or a few drinks to unwind at the end of the week.
To break these habits, find new ones. Try drinking flavored seltzer with dinner. Sip on a cup of tea to relax. Pay attention to when you drink as part of another habit, rather than because you actually want to enjoy an alcoholic drink.
Find Other Sources of Stress Relief
If you turn to alcohol to help you cope with stress, do something different. Practice yoga, take a walk, call a friend or spend a few minutes doing any activity you enjoy. These habits can make you feel good naturally, so you don’t rely on alcohol as a way to de-stress.
Some people pair situations, people, or foods with the green light to drink as much as they want. Does watching the big game with a group or going out with specific people lead to overindulging? It may be time to avoid those situations until you feel you can better handle them without drinking too much.
If your drinking is getting in the way of your life or you cannot lower how much you drink on your own, contact your health care provider or join a support group for help.
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