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How Much is Too Much? Understanding Safe Alcohol Consumption

How Much is Too Much? Understanding Safe Alcohol Consumption

Drinking in moderation can be safe, but excessive alcohol consumption is dangerous. Learn how much alcohol is too much, so you know when to seek help.

You have probably heard that drinking alcohol in moderation is safe, but it is possible to drink too much. In fact, drinking to excess increases your risk of health problems and can lead to the development of an alcohol addiction. Excessive drinking can be treated with alcohol rehab and other supportive services, like working with a recovery coach or participating in medication assisted treatment for alcohol use. So, how much alcohol is too much? Learn the answer, as well as information about when it’s time to seek help, here. 

Alcohol Consumption Guidelines

Understanding what constitutes too much alcohol begins with learning about alcohol consumption guidelines. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that men should limit their drinking to no more than two drinks per day, and women should have no more than one drink per day. Alternatively, people can choose not to drink at all, as there is no dietary need for alcohol. 

Factors in Alcohol Consumption

The above guidelines provide information pertaining to how many drinks a day is safe, but these are just general recommendations. Some people should avoid drinking altogether, based upon personal factors such as:

  • Medications they’re taking
  • Health conditions
  • Family or personal history of alcohol misuse 
  • Pregnancy
  • Age

Avoiding alcohol consumption under certain circumstances may be necessary for health and safety. For example, certain medications can interact with alcohol and create serious side effects, such as sleepiness, dizziness, and in some cases, overdose and death. Older adults may be particularly at risk of alcohol overdose.

Furthermore, those under the age of 21, and women who are pregnant or trying to conceive should avoid alcohol consumption. Finally, people with a history of alcohol misuse, or a high risk for such based upon family history, may need to avoid drinking altogether. 

In summary, while there are guidelines on how much alcohol per day is too much, there are some cases where any alcohol at all is a risk. 

Binge Drinking 

According to the NIAAA, 25.8% of American adults binge drink within a given month. While this may be a common practice, the reality is that binge drinking can increase the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder, which is the clinical term for an alcohol addiction. 

Binge drinking is generally defined as 5 or more drinks during one sitting for a man, or 4 or more drinks in one sitting for a woman. Binge drinking is one form of alcohol consumption falling under the category of too much alcohol. 

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Underage Drinking

Underage drinking constitutes a form of dangerous alcohol consumption, regardless of the amount consumed. According to the CDC, 29% of high schoolers drink alcohol within a given month, and 14% engage in binge drinking. 

Excessive drinking in teens is linked to numerous consequences, including the following:

  • Poor performance at school
  • Fighting
  • Physical and sexual abuse
  • Unwanted pregnancy
  • Increased risk of suicide
  • Arrests
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Increased risk of misusing other substances
  • Poor brain development
  • Risk of accidents and injuries 

Heavy Drinking 

So, what is considered a heavy drinker? NIAAA states that for a man, heavy drinking is consuming more than 4 drinks on any given day or more than 14 drinks in a week. Heavy drinking for a woman is consuming more than 3 drinks in one day or more than 7 drinks over the course of a week. 

Heavy drinking can also be defined as binge drinking 5 or more times over the course of a month. 

What Is Considered a Drink?

To understand how much drinking is too much, it is important to know how to define a drink. A standard drink can be defined as follows:

  • 12 ounces of beer
  • 8-10 fluid ounces of hard seltzer
  • 5 ounces of table wine
  • 3-4 ounces of fortified wine, like port wine
  • 1.5 fluid ounces of brandy or distilled spirits, like gin, rum, or vodka 

The reason it’s important to know what is considered one drink is that you may be unknowingly consuming more alcohol than you realize. For example, if you pour a large glass of wine, you could be consuming the equivalent of two or three drinks, even if you only consider it to be one drink. 

How Long Alcohol Stays In Your System

Alcohol stays in the urine for as long as 130 hours, or about 5 days, among people who drink heavily. It can generally be detected in the breath or saliva for a day or two. 

When it comes to how quickly the body metabolizes alcohol, there is a maximum amount that the body can process within an hour. This amount varies, based upon a person’s health, liver size, and body weight. If you drink excessively, alcohol consumption can take a toll on the body, because it will build up in the system more quickly than you can process it. 

Recommended Alcohol Intake 

There is no recommended alcohol intake, as alcohol is not essential for human health. You may have heard that alcohol may provide some benefits, such as reducing the risk of heart disease, but the reality is that there are other strategies, such as a healthy diet and regular exercise routine, that can protect you from heart disease. 

If you do choose to drink, it is recommended that men consume no more than 2 drinks per day and that women consume no more than 1 drink per day. 

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If you’re looking for information on how much alcohol is too much, the answers to the questions below can provide additional insight.

Is Two Alcoholic Drinks A Day Too Much?

For a male, government guidelines state that up to two drinks per day constitutes moderate alcohol consumption, which is within safe limits. That being said, if you have certain health conditions or a history of alcohol misuse, any drinking may be too much. For women, two drinks per day, every day, exceeds the recommended limit of 1 drink per day. Talk with your doctor if you have questions about the level of alcohol consumption that is safe for your specific situation.

Is Getting Drunk Once A Week Too Much?

Drinking to the point of intoxication often falls under the category of binge drinking, but individual experiences can vary. For instance, some people may feel drunk after just a drink or two, which can fall within the safe limits of alcohol consumption.

On the other hand, if getting drunk means binge drinking, doing so once a week falls under the category of heavy alcohol consumption, which is risky drinking and elevates the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder. 

How Often Is It Okay To Get Drunk?

If getting drunk means binge drinking, this is a risky form of alcohol consumption. Binge drinking occurs when a female drinks 4 or more drinks in one sitting, or when a male drinks 5 or more drinks during a single sitting. If being drunk means drinking this amount or more, there is no safe level of “getting drunk.” 

What Can I Do Instead Of Drinking?

If you’re looking for solutions to reduce your drinking, there are other activities you can do that do not involve alcohol consumption. You might consider going for a walk, going to a movie with friends, starting a new television series, or taking up reading. It can also be helpful to start a new hobby that takes up your free time, or to join a gym or exercise class to keep you occupied. 

Does Alcohol Make You Fat?

Studies suggest that heavy drinking is linked to weight gain, whereas drinking a light to moderate amount is not. This is because alcohol contains calories but has no nutritional value. Drinking excessively increases your calorie intake, which can lead to fat gain. 

How Do You Know If You Have An Alcohol Addiction?

If you have an alcohol addiction or alcohol use disorder, you will continue to drink, even when it causes significant consequences in your life. If you have found that you are drinking larger amounts than intended, and that you are spending a significant amount of time drinking, even when it interferes with your relationships or places you in danger, it may be time to seek help for an alcohol use disorder.

What Will Happen If You Drink Alcohol Everyday?

The risks of drinking everyday will vary based upon the amount you’re drinking. If you have a single drink each day, this is unlikely to be harmful. However, drinking more than 3 drinks on a given day as a woman, or more than 4 drinks as a man, is considered heavy drinking, which is a health risk. Consult with your doctor about whether your daily drinking habits are safe for your specific situation. 

How Much Is Too Much Alcohol Weekly?

Experts recommend that women consume no more than 7 drinks in a given week, and that men consume no more than 14 in a week. Your drinking limits may differ from this based upon your health status. 

Is It Okay To Drink Every Night?

Only your doctor can tell you how much alcohol is too much for you to drink, but whether it’s safe to drink every night generally depends upon the amount of alcohol you’re consuming. Having one standard size drink with dinner each night is unlikely to be harmful, but binge drinking nightly is risky for health. Talk with your doctor if you are concerned about your drinking habits.

Recover From Alcohol Misuse With Confidant Health 

If you’re looking for an alcohol rehab program to help you stop drinking, Confidant Health is here to help. We provide completely virtual alcohol misuse treatment so you can recover from home. Download our app today, on either the Apple Store or the Google Play Store, to begin online medication assisted treatment for alcohol use

This article has been medically reviewed by
Erin Hillers
Erin Hillers
Erin Hillers
Nurse Practitioner

Erin is a Nurse Practitioner with 8 years of experience in midwifery and women's health. She has spent the past 5 years specializing in the treatment of opioid and alcohol use disorders.

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