The number of alcoholic drinks a person consumes per week can be a sign of alcohol misuse.

Organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) states that any amount of alcohol a person consumes can have negative effects on their health.

Experts define levels of alcohol use by the number of drinks a person consumes per day and week. These levels include moderate drinking, binge drinking, and heavy drinking.

This article explains how many drinks per week doctors consider to be alcohol misuse. It also discusses heavy drinking and alcohol use disorder.

People used to refer to alcohol use disorder (AUD) as alcoholism, and the people with it as alcoholics. Experts have increasingly seen these terms as negative and unhelpful labels. Today, instead of people being alcoholics, professionals refer to them as people with AUD.

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Many experts would recommend a person not to drink alcohol at all. Recent research has shown that any alcohol consumption can negatively affect a person’s health.

Excessive drinking, or alcohol misuse, includes binge drinking, heavy drinking, and any drinking by a pregnant person or an individual under the legal age.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define binge drinking as 4 or more drinks on a single occasion for females and 5 or more drinks on a single occasion for males.

The CDC define moderate drinking as 1 drink or less per day for females and 2 drinks or less per day for males.

In the United States, organizations consider a “standard drink” to be about 0.6 fluid ounces (oz), or 14 grams, of pure ethanol or alcohol. The following table shows how this equates to some common types of drinks.

Type of drinkAlcohol percentageMeasurement
Beerabout 5%12 fluid oz
Malt liquor or flavored malt beverage (hard seltzer, etc.)about 7%8–10 fluid oz
Table wineabout 12%5 fluid oz
Fortified wine (port, sherry)about 17%3–4 fluid oz
Cordial liquorabout 24%2–3 fluid oz
Brandy or Cognacabout 40%1.5 fluid oz
Distilled spirits (vodka, whiskey, gin, rum, etc.)about 40%1.5 fluid oz

There are certain circumstances where a person should not drink at all. These include:

  • being pregnant
  • being under the legal age
  • planning to drive or driving
  • participating in activities that require alertness, coordination, and skill
  • taking medications that may interact negatively with alcohol

Patterns of heavy drinking can put a person at a higher risk of developing alcohol use disorder (AUD) or experiencing other harms that have an association with drinking excess amounts of alcohol.

The CDC defines heavy drinking as 8 or more drinks per week for females and 15 or more drinks per week for males.

It is important to note that many people who drink heavily or excessively do not have AUD or a dependence on alcohol. However, this behavior can increase the risk of developing either of these.

Heavy drinking may increase a person’s risk of short- and long-term health issues, such as:

Heavy drinking and binge drinking may also increase the chances of:

  • car accidents
  • burns
  • memory blackouts
  • assaults
  • drownings
  • overdose-related deaths

For many people, consuming alcohol, even heavy consumption, does not pose an issue. However, for around 18 million people in the U.S., it leads to the development of AUD.

AUD is characterized by alcohol consumption that causes distress and harm in a person’s life. It can range from mild to severe.

AUD can cause the following:

  • Cravings: These are strong urges or need to drink.
  • Loss of control: This is the inability to stop drinking alcohol once a person starts.
  • Negative emotional state: This includes feeling irritable and anxious when a person is not able to drink.

Learn more about alcohol use disorder.

If a person feels their alcohol consumption may have become an issue in their life, they can contact a healthcare or mental health professional. These professionals can help provide advice and treatment options.

Individuals and family members may also reach out to support organizations that can help with recovery from AUD and other drinking-related issues. These include:

The following are some questions people frequently ask about alcohol use and its effects.

What are the 5 ‘A’s of alcohol use?

The “5 ‘A’s” are guidelines that healthcare professionals can use in order to address adolescent alcohol use in a clinical setting. They are as follows:

  • Ask
  • Advise
  • Assess
  • Assist
  • Arrange

What does alcohol do to your body after 40?

As a person ages, they may develop health conditions or take medications that make it so they need to limit or avoid alcohol. They can also find that alcohol affects them differently as they get older. This may increase the risk of falls, car accidents, and fractures.

Current guidelines encourage people not to drink any alcohol. Any alcohol consumption can have negative effects on a person’s health. However, experts encourage people who choose to drink alcohol to do so in moderation.

Alcohol misuse includes binge drinking, heavy drinking, and drinking while pregnant or under the legal age.

Not everyone who excessively consumes alcohol has alcohol use disorder (AUD). However, heavy and binge drinking can increase a person’s risk of developing this condition.

If a person believes their alcohol consumption has begun to cause distress or harm in their life, they can speak with a healthcare or mental health professional or contact a support organization.