How Much Alcohol Is Too Much?

There are many choices to make when consuming alcohol: Shaken or stirred? White or red? Domestic or craft?

But one question might not have as easy of an answer: How much is too much?

In fact, you might be drinking too much without knowing it. To avoid this problem, it’s important to know what moderate drinking is — and how drinking impacts you and those around you.

What Is Moderate Drinking?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has set guidelines for moderate drinking. According to the CDC, the upper limit is two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.

The upper limit for women is lower because women absorb and metabolize alcohol differently than men. That’s according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

Regardless of how fast you metabolize alcohol, though, drinking less is better for your health than drinking more.

How Much Alcohol Is Too Much Per Day?

When trying to answer figure out how much alcohol is too much, there are different factors to consider:

  • Your health.
  • The amount of alcohol you consume.
  • How you consume the alcohol (five drinks in one day vs. one drink per day, five days per week).

In general, you should not exceed the CDC’s daily upper limit for moderate drinking (two drinks for men, one drink for women).

Those who consume more alcohol have an increased risk of death from all causes compared to those who consume less. That’s according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025.”

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When Even One Drink Is Too Much

Some people should not consume alcohol under any circumstances. This includes people who are:

  • Under the age of 21.
  • Pregnant or may be pregnant.
  • Suffering from liver disease or other medical conditions that may become worse with alcohol consumption.
  • Driving or planning to drive.
  • Participating in an activity that requires skill, coordination, or alertness.
  • Taking medication — prescription or over the counter — that can interact with alcohol.
  • Unable to control the amount they drink.
  • Recovering from any substance use disorder.

What Is Binge Drinking?

Binge drinking is the consumption of an excessive amount of alcohol in a short amount of time. This is defined as four or more drinks on a single occasion for women, and five or more for men.

Here are statistics about binge drinking from the CDC:

  • One in six adults (38 million) in the U.S. binge drink.
  • Binge drinkers binge about four times a month, with average eight drinks per binge.
  • Most people who binge drink are not alcohol dependent and don’t have a severe alcohol use disorder.
  • Binge drinking is most common in young adults from 18 to 34.

What Is Heavy Drinking?

While binge drinking focuses on one session of drinking, you can still consume excessive alcohol without binging. Excessive alcohol consumption is about the total amount of alcoholic drinks you consume in a week.

Heavy drinking is defined as seven or more drinks per week for women, and 15 or more for men. This is due to differences in the metabolism of alcohol between women and men.

If you are a binge drinker, you can still also be a heavy drinker even if you fall below this weekly total. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines heavy alcohol use as binge drinking on five or more days in a month.

What Is Alcohol Use Disorder?

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a medical condition that involves frequent alcohol use. People with AUD are unable to control or stop their drinking despite the consequences.

AUD is also commonly referred to as alcohol abuse, alcohol addiction, alcohol dependence, and alcoholism.

AUD is considered a brain disorder that has different levels of severity. According to the NIAAA, 14.1 million American adults had AUD in 2019.

Symptoms of AUD

AUD has a long list of symptoms. Health care providers typically diagnose AUD — and its severity — based on a survey from a healthcare provider.

AUD is treatable, and the treatment can be different depending on the person. Treatment can be inpatient or outpatient or a combination of both. It may include medication, behavioral treatments (including therapy), and mutual support groups.

Those with severe AUD must seek medical treatment to assist with safe management of alcohol withdrawal, which can be life-threatening.

How Does Alcohol Harm Your Body?

Excess alcohol consumption has severe short- and long-term health impacts.

Short-term risks of excess alcohol consumption

There are many short-term risks from heavy drinking and binge drinking. These include:

  • Injuries and deaths resulting from impaired driving. Every day in the U.S, 29 people die as a result of motor vehicle crashes involving an alcohol-impaired driver.
  • Non-vehicle accidents, such as drownings, falls, or burns.
  • Alcohol poisoning, which occurs when there is too much alcohol in the bloodstream. This causes a medical emergency that can be fatal.
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The risk of STIs increases with high alcohol consumption.
  • Physical violence, domestic abuse, homicide, suicide, and sexual assault. This is typically from impaired impulse control.

Long-term risks of excess alcohol consumption

Over time, excessive alcohol use puts you at increased risk of a number of chronic diseases and serious health problems. Those include:

  • Cardiovascular issues, including high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.
  • Liver disease and digestive problems.
  • Increased risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, larynx, esophagus, colon, rectum, liver, and breast (in women).
  • Memory problems, including dementia.
  • Mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. (In fact, AUD and depression are closely linked, with each disorder increasing the risk of the other.)
  • AUD. What starts at heavy drinking or binge drinking can progress to AUD.
  • Weakened immune system.

UPMC Addiction Medicine Services

Dependence on drugs or alcohol can have profound affects on a person’s:

  • Physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
  • Personal and social relationships.
  • Ability to function at work, school, and in the community.

Family members also carry a heavy burden when a loved one has a substance use disorder.

If you or a loved one is battling a substance use disorder, UPMC Addiction Medicine Services of UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital can help.

Contact Us

We offer treatment for AUD at our Oakland and Wilkinsburg locations. To see if there’s currently room for a new patient, call UPMC Addiction Medicine Services at 412-692-2273.

If you need detox or withdrawal management services, call 412-246-5278 for a phone assessment with one of our nurses. We’re open Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.

If you are currently experiencing a medical emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department.

Sources

https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/alcohol/index.htm

https://www.cdc.gov/transportationsafety/impaired_driving/index.html

https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm

https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/understanding-alcohol-use-disorder

https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/onlinemedia/infographics/excessive-alcohol-use.html#:~:text=For%20men%2C%20binge%20drinking%20is,drinks%20or%20more%20per%20week.

https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2021-03/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans-2020-2025.pdf

https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/faqs.htm#:~:text=The%20Dietary%20Guidelines%20for%20Americansexternal%20icon%20recommends%20that%20adults,on%20a%20day%20for%20men.

https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/binge-drinking.htm

https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/faqs.htm#alcoholismAbuse

https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/alcohol-advice/the-risks-of-drinking-too-much/

https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/moderate-binge-drinking

https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa46.htm

https://www.samhsa.gov/

https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/understanding-dangers-of-alcohol-overdose

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3529570/#:~:text=Effects%20of%20alcohol%20abuse%20on,risk%20of%20acquiring%20an%20STI.

https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/sexually-transmitted-infections-(stis)

https://americanaddictioncenters.org/alcoholism-treatment/depression

https://www.upmc.com/services/behavioral-health/addiction

About UPMC

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