How Many Drinks is Too Much?

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Am I Drinking Too Much? Excessive Drinking Explained

Discussing whether or not someone is drinking too much is complex. As with many other things in life, this is not a black-and-white issue though we often try to make it a black-and-white thing.

Many times, without even trying, we will lump everyone that drinks into just two categories despite all of the gray area there is in the conversation. The categories are, of course, either 1) people with an alcohol problem and 2) people without an alcohol problem.

Think about your friend from high school that was always the life of the party. He never grew out of the partying, but he also never slipped into what you would consider an alcohol problem. Since he seems to not have a problem, he isn’t facing an alcohol use disorder (also known as alcoholism), right?

Maybe you’d be right that he isn’t facing an alcohol use disorder, but he still may be drinking too much. While drinking too much alcohol may not tear your life completely apart right now, it can still have a massive impact on your present and future.

You can put yourself at an increased risk for vehicle accidents. In New Mexico, more than 1,000 lives were lost to alcohol-impaired driving from 2009 to 2018. Annually, more than 10,000 American lives are lost due to drunk driving.

Each person handles alcohol in a different way. The way in which a body processes alcohol is different for each person because of a number of factors, so drinking “too much” is not a truly firm scale.

While there are guidelines out there, which we will jump into soon, they are only suggestions.

What Is a Standard Drink?

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has determined a qualifying standard for alcoholic beverages. According to the NIAAA, a standard drink is equal to the following:

  • 12 fl oz of beer (at 5% alcohol by volume)
  • 8-9 fl oz of malt liquor (at 7% alcohol by volume)
  • 5 fl oz of table wine (at 12% alcohol by volume)
  • 1.5 fl oz or a shot of 80-proof distilled spirits (at 40% alcohol by volume)

The standards are important to know in determining the true amount of alcohol that is consumed. There are a number of guidelines that are followed using the measurements of these standard drinks, such as the “1-2-3 rule.”

The 1-2-3 rule states that you should stick to drinking:

  • One drink or less per hour
  • Two drinks or less at any given time
  • Three drinks or less in any given week

This is a fairly safe rule, but again, it is just a suggestion because everyone handles alcohol differently.

What Is Drinking in Moderation?

Drinking in moderation is best defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In the guidelines, the CDC “recommends that adults of legal drinking age can choose not to drink, or to drink in moderation by limiting intake to two drinks or less in a day for men or one drink or less in a day for women, on days when alcohol is consumed.”

The guidelines go further in stating that for men over 65 years old, the limit drops down to one drink per day. This is due to tolerance to alcohol weakening with age.

While the CDC shares this information, it comes from the 2020-’25 Dietary Guidelines for Americans released by the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). They also share warnings to those that do not drink or already do and are simply looking for a reason to drink.

The HHS guidelines state, “Emerging evidence suggests that even drinking within the recommended limits may increase the overall risk of death from various causes, such as from several types of cancer and some forms of cardiovascular disease. Alcohol has been found to increase the risk for cancer, and for some types of cancer, the risk increases even at low levels of alcohol consumption (less than one drink in a day).”

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What Is Heavy Drinking?

The NIAAA has guidelines of its own. The guidelines provided by the NIAAA are for what Americans should consider to be heavy drinking. Following their guidance may tell you whether or not you have been drinking too much.

According to the NIAAA, a person is considered to be drinking heavily if they have the following:

  • Men
    • More than four drinks on any day
    • More than 14 drinks per week
  • Women
    • More than three drinks on any day
    • More than seven drinks per week

The stark difference in amounts may catch your attention. Why can men drink nearly twice as much per week and not be considered heavy drinkers? It is a totally valid question.

Former Director of the NIAAA Enoch Gordis summed the answer up well. “Where women and men drink at the same rate, women continue to be at higher risk than are men for certain serious medical consequences of alcohol use, including liver, brain, and heart damage,” Gordis said. “We know that some of this risk is due to gender differences in metabolism; it also could quite possibly be due to gender-related differences in brain chemistry, in genetic risk factors, or to entirely different factors that are currently unknown.”

While the NIAAA follows the path of belief that biological factors may come into play, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) gives a slightly more vague and non-gender-specific guideline to heavy drinking.

According to SAMHSA, heavy alcohol use is defined as binge drinking five or more days per month. Binge drinking is a pattern of drinking in which a person rapidly consumes alcohol until the point where their blood alcohol content (BAC) is above the legal limit of 0.08%. Typically for any adult, this is accomplished by having multiple drinks within the span of 60-120 minutes and the alcoholic beverage content.

The Dangers of Continued Heavy Drinking

If you are just now understanding that you have been drinking heavily and want to immediately make a change, you’re making a great decision for your present and future.

Continued heavy drinking can cause many dangers in the short term and the long term. In the short term, you run the risk of death or serious injury from incidents like car accidents and falls.

The long-term effects are much more substantial. With continued heavy drinking, you run the risk of things like:

  • Brain damage
    • That headache you feel during a hangover is more than just a headache. It is a sign that alcohol has negatively affected your brain. Brains suffer from alcohol with continued changes to the abilities of motor skills and decision-making.
  • Heart disease
    • By continuing to drink heavily, you run the risk of permanent heart damage.
    • Heart conditions caused by heavy drinking can include:
      • Cardiomyopathy (weakening of muscles around the heart)
      • Irregular heartbeat
      • High blood pressure
  • Liver damage by Alcohol
    • The liver can suffer from three different diseases due to heavy drinking. These diseases include:
      • Fatty liver
      • Hepatitis
      • Cirrhosis
  • Increased risk of cancer

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

Heavy drinking guidelines, just like guidelines for drinking in moderation, are all only suggestions based on scientific evidence. Every single human being is different, and there are numerous factors that play into how our bodies absorb and metabolize (process) alcohol.

Think of a situation when you have been out at a bar or party with a friend that is fairly close to your exact size. You match each other drink for drink, but somehow by drink four, they are feeling the effects seemingly way more than you are. That is because, while weight is a factor, it is not the only factor in how we react to alcohol.

Body weight does play a big role. A person’s weight, or general size, is tied directly to how much alcohol a person can consume before feeling its effects or reaching a dangerous level of BAC. The body is made up of mostly water. Alcohol, when consumed, enters our bloodstream through water. The more size you have, the more water there is to dilute the alcohol and the more alcohol it takes to overcome the threshold of alcohol effects.

Other factors include:

  • Medications
    • Certain prescribed medications, and even over-the-counter medications, can have negative interactions with alcohol. They can either work to increase the effects or dampen the effects, which makes the mixture very dangerous. It is important to know before drinking how the medication has been studied in relation to the consumption of alcohol.
  • Stomach contents
    • When someone eats before or during drinking, the contents that are in the stomach will alter the speed at which alcohol enters the bloodstream. This can lessen the effects of the alcohol because it is possible your liver will clear the alcohol from your body before all of the alcohol consumed has even reached the bloodstream.
  • Age
    • As we age, our tolerance for things becomes less, and this is especially true with alcohol.
  • General health
    • Because of the journey it takes and the process needed to get rid of alcohol, the health of a person’s liver, stomach, kidneys, and blood plays a role.

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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 (855) 239-7117 if you or a loved one is battling an alcohol use disorder and desires a happier and healthier future.

FAQs:

How many drinks a day is considered enough to make someone an alcoholic?

There is not a firm answer to give to this. Alcohol use disorder is the inability to stop drinking alcohol despite the negative consequences it causes in your life. This can be any number of drinks in theory.

If you feel like your drinking has become a negative influence on your life, it is time to seek help. Call us today at Shadow Mountain Recovery.

How many drinks per day is too many?

The CDC considers drinking in moderation as a man having two or fewer standard alcoholic beverages in a given day. When a man reaches 65 years of age, the number of drinks drops down to one. One is also the number of drinks allotted for women on any given day.

Anything more than what is considered moderate drinking is enough to make you examine your drinking habits.

How many drinks is a lot in one night?

The standard for this answer varies from person to person. Anything more than two drinks in a single night for a man or one drink in a night for a woman is considered to be more than drinking in moderation by the CDC. If you are drinking more than this daily, it is time to at least consider your drinking habits and what they do to your daily life.

How many drinks is OK daily?

The CDC recommendation for alcohol drinking in moderation is two drinks or fewer for men per day and one drink or less per day for women.