How Many Drinks is Too Much?

A glass or two of red wine after dinner, a beer at the lunch meeting, a mimosa at brunch, or a nightcap right before bed. These are all forms of alcohol consumption that are not only common and acceptable, but even encouraged in some instances. While there is mixed and hotly-debated evidence showing that occasional alcohol use is harmful, there is plenty of research showing that excessive alcohol consumption is not only unhealthy, but potentially dangerous.

That being said, alcohol consumption is particularly tricky in regards to what is deemed “acceptable” and what is deemed “excessive”. Afterall, there are few drugs that are accepted and even recommended for occasional use like alcohol is. Despite the obscure definition of “too much” alcohol, there have been rough guidelines put into place to help people determine if enough is enough. 

What Is a Standard Drink?

While the amount of alcohol considered “too much” varies from person to person, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism does have measurements for what they consider a “standard drink”. A standard drink is any drink that contains about 14 grams or 1.2 tablespoons of pure alcohol. To put that into perspective, a standard drink is as follows: 

  • One 12 ounce can of beer at ~5% alcohol
  • One 8 ounce glass of malt liquor at ~7% alcohol
  • One 5 ounce glass of wine at ~12% alcohol
  • One 1.5 ounce or one shot of distilled spirits at 40% alcohol. 

It must be remembered though, that most wines, beers, and other alcohols have variable percentages of pure alcohol and that the serving sizes provided by manufacturers, bars, and restaurants are not always equivalent to a standard drink. In some cases the beverage served may even be considered more than one standard drink. This can make tracking how much a person drinks difficult, especially when that person is making a concerted effort to drink in moderation. You can check out our post about the alcohol content in drinks if you want to learn more.

What Is Drinking in Moderation?

Drinking in moderation is simply practicing restraint in regards to the amount of alcohol being consumed with the goal of avoiding alcohol related social and health risks. It’s never quite as simple as it sounds, though. Drinking in moderation is actually contingent on biological sex, age, relative health, wright, body composition. As a rule of thumb, however, it is suggested that men drink less than 2 drinks a day and women drink less than one drink a day to be considered drinking in moderation. This, however, can vary depending on the above listed factors. Even then, drinking every day is not encouraged and can often be seen as a sign of a developing alcohol use disorder. Afterall, the line between drinking in moderation and heavy drinking is very thin.

What Is Heavy Drinking?

Heavy drinking, like drinking in moderation is contingent on a number of factors, but does have a general standard to refer back on. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism heavy drinking for men is consuming more than 4 drinks on any day, or more than 14 drinks per week. For women that is 3 drinks a day, or more than 7 days a week. They also cite that it is considered heavy drinking if a person binge drinks on more than 5 occasions in a month. In New Mexico, research shows that 1 in 7 adults binge drink more than 5 nights a month. While it might not be uncommon for people to go through brief periods of excessive drinking or even binge drink on occasion, that does not mean that heavy drinking is not dangerous. 

The Dangers of Continued Heavy Drinking

Heavy drinking, like most substance use habits, is not sustainable in the long run. Continued heavy drinking can not only lead to alcoholism, but major health problems, and even legal trouble.

Alcohol is an addictive substance. While not all people who drink become addicted, studies show that 10% of heavy drinkers go on to develop alcoholism. That being said, the 90% who are not classified as having alcohol use disorder are not immune to the danger of excessive alcohol use. In fact, in some cases, they may be more susceptible because their drinking habits may not be treated with the same concern as those of a person with alcoholism. Prolonged and consistent alcohol use has been linked to a variety of health concerns. Liver damage, heart disease, depression, dementia, anemia, certain cancers, seizures, higher risks of infection, ulcers, digestive disorders, and sleep disturbances have all been causally linked to heavy alcohol consumption. Chronic liver disease as a result of heavy alcohol use is the leading cause of alcohol related deaths in New Mexico, but is certainly not the only cause as New Mexico leads the nation in alcohol related deaths. These are not including the physical injuries that can be sustained from drunkenness or the social ramifications of heavy drinking.

People who drink heavily often have at least a few alcohol related run-ins with the law. Over the duration of their time as a heavy drinker, many drinkers find themselves with charges such as driving under the influence, public intoxication, public nuisance, and even disturbing the peace. The charges range from low level misdemeanors to mid tier felonies and not only end up with a suspended drivers license, but also with a real threat of prison time.

Why You May Be Drinking Too Much Even If You Aren’t Heavily Drinking

Even if a person’s drinking habits do not qualify them as an alcoholic or a heavy drinker, that does not mean that they are drinking without risk. A person can be neither of those things and still be drinking more alcohol than they should. Drinking alcohol in any amount is assuming a certain level of risk, and even people who are social drinkers are susceptible.

Consider for a moment that it is not uncommon for people to binge drink in certain situations; they might drink to excess at parties, holidays, or weddings. While this might be the social norm in some circles, this does not mean that people who drink like this are not drinking too much. On the contrary, by drinking too much even once, a person is putting themselves and their family at risk. There are social consequences to consider such as embarrassment, conflict, and broken relationships. People may not have a diagnosable drinking problem and still suffer familial breakdowns due to alcohol use in the same way that people with alcoholism do. Risk of injury due to drunkeness, driving under the influence, and even alcohol poisoning are all things to consider.

Aside from the occasional alcohol binge, it is also possible to drink to excess without being dependent on alcohol or being considered a heavy drinker. The CDC states that one in three adults who drink alcohol drink to excess but are not considered alcoholics. This is responsible for 88,000 deaths in the US per year. This is not just deaths from alcohol poisoning, but can include deaths that were a result from organ damage, organ failure, accidents while drunk, vomit aspiration, driving under the influence, or a number of other alcohol related deaths.

Before you gather your wine, beer, and spirits and head for the kitchen sink, it is not our intention to convince you that you should not drink. On the contrary, we understand that drinking alcohol has been and will continue to be a social, cultural, and personal staple in the lives of many people for years to come. That being said, it is our goal that every person who chooses to drink understands the risk they are taking on, and chooses to drink not only responsibly, but with these risks in mind. We also hope that if a person does find themselves drinking more often than they perhaps should, or is even unable to stop drinking even though they are aware they are drinking too much, that they should reach out to us at Shadow Mountain Recovery for help.

Detox and Rehab For Alcohol Use Disorder at Shadow Mountain Recovery

Shadow Mountain Recovery provides detox and rehab for alcoholism to any person with a desire for change. Located in the American Southwest in New Mexico, we offer inpatient and outpatient treatment to those ready to take the step toward recovery. 

Contact us today at 505-657-2117 if you or a loved one is battling an alcohol use disorder and desires a happier and healthier future.



Alcoholism is not based on the amount of drinks a person drinks in a day. Alcoholism is actually based on a reliance on alcohol and an inability to control drinking habits.

While it may differ from person to person, the recommended maximum drinks per day for a man is two or less and for a woman it is one or less. That being said, that is not an encouragement to drink every day. Drinking daily in any amount is assuming some risk.

“A lot” of drinks might also be called heavy drinking. For a man this is four or more drinks and for a woman this might be three or more.

Research shows that, in general, the maximum amount of alcoholic drinks that should be consumed in a day is two for men and one for women. That being said, this varies from person to person.

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