Moderate drinking: Women and men, alcohol limits, benefits, risks

Drinkers with a shorter history of problems and less severe problems tend to be more successful with cutting back and maintaining it. (We’ll cover this in more depth later in the series.) Drinkers who believe that alcoholism is a bad habit rather than a disease tend to do better with moderation. This definition of moderate drinking prevents you from getting drunk. Now if your idea of moderate drinking is a 6 pack instead of a 12 pack, this would suggest that you drink with some pretty heavy drinkers.

moderate drinking

Some people should avoid even that much and not drink at all if they have certain heart rhythm abnormalities or have heart failure. While the alcohol industry often stands against many of these policies and regulations, they are relatively easy to implement. Despite this, in the U.S., alcohol control policies have been in decline over the past several decades, with many states moving to privatize alcohol sales – in direct opposition to what experts know can reduce alcohol-related harms. Privitization, which removes state monopolies on alcohol sales, greatly increases per capita alcohol sales and consumption.

The Bottom Line: Balancing Risks and Benefits

Excessive alcohol use includes binge drinking, heavy drinking, any alcohol use by people under the age 21 minimum legal drinking age, and any alcohol use by pregnant women. However, those health benefits can quickly turn into health risks. Studies from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) have found that drinking frequency is a risk factor, even with moderate drinking. The CDC, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s dietary guidelines all agree that minimal drinking is better than even a moderate alcohol intake.

What is moderate vs heavy drinking?

For women, moderate drinking is fewer than two drinks per day; heavy drinking is more than three drinks per occasion or more than seven drinks per week. For men, moderate drinking is fewer than three drinks per day; heavy drinking is more than four drinks per occasion or more than 14 drinks per week.

Although alcohol plays a pivotal role in American culture, in my view the undisputed consequences of drinking make it unwise to recommend alcohol as a path to better health and well-being. As I see it, the small reductions in cardiovascular disease that are questionably linked to low levels of consumption are hardly offset by the sizable harms of alcohol on individual and population health. Wine is easier to know the alcohol content because it’s (usually) listed on the bottle. Liquor and mixed drinks are a whole other “kettle of fish.” How much vodka is in that Martini? Yes, there are standard recipes for mixed drinks and we’ll provide a searchable database later in the series of moderation posts.

About Alcohol

Scientists said that the older studies failed to recognize that light and moderate drinkers had myriad other healthy habits and advantages, and that the abstainers used as a comparison group often included former drinkers who had given up alcohol after developing health problems. There is also some evidence that genes influence how alcohol affects the cardiovascular system. An enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase helps metabolize alcohol. One variant of this enzyme, called alcohol dehydrogenase type 1C (ADH1C), comes in two “flavors.” One quickly breaks down alcohol, the other does it more slowly. Moderate drinkers who have two copies of the gene for the slow-acting enzyme are at much lower risk for cardiovascular disease than moderate drinkers who have two genes for the fast-acting enzyme. [44] Those with one gene for the slow-acting enzyme and one for the faster enzyme fall in between.

moderate drinking

An Italian review of studies published in the European Journal of Epidemiology found that moderate wine and beer consumption reduced the risk of cardiovascular events, but spirits did not. For those older than 65, the TMRELs represented just over three standard drinks per day. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has created public health guidelines for U.S. adults. Thanks to lobbying by the powerful alcohol industry, alcohol’s dangers may be underplayed and its benefits exaggerated. There are many well-established problems with drinking even at moderate levels that likely outweigh any potential benefits.

It is the alcohol that causes harm, not the beverage

There is agreement in the scientific community about what defines “moderate drinking.” It’s no more than 3-4 standard drinks per drinking episode and a total of no more than 9 drinks per week for women and for men. Also, moderate drinking means limiting how fast you drink and, as a result, keeping your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) below .055 (.08 is the DWI limit in all states in the U.S.). Moderate drinking is defined as at most one standard drink per day for women and at most two for men, while heavy drinking is defined as more than three drinks per day for women and four for men (80).

(Probably because they taste better but that’s our own opinion.) And remember, a pint of beer is 16 oz so that’s already a 1.25 standard drinks at 5% beer. The research team pointed out that future studies should look at how much alcohol people have consumed over their lifetime to get a better sense of the risks and benefits. In his view, the idea of alcohol as being a healthy choice came about because in previous studies the definition of total abstainers used in studies likely included people who had already felt the effects of high alcohol consumption.

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