Drinking in moderation means consuming no more than one drink weekly for females and two drinks weekly for males. Heavy drinking consists of 8 or more drinks per day for females and 15 or more for males. A person can discuss any concerns about their drinking with a doctor.
Occasional or light drinking generally does not cause health problems. Heavy drinking, however, can have serious health risks, including cancer and damage to multiple organs.
The World Health Organization (WHO) attributes
There is no safe level of drinking. However, keeping track of alcohol intake can help a person reduce their risk of alcohol-related health conditions or injury.
This article reviews current guidelines on alcohol consumption to help distinguish drinking in moderation from excessive drinking. It also explores heavy drinking, its risks, and how to prevent alcohol dependence.
A note about sex and gender
Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.
According to the
The guidelines also mention that the following groups of people should not drink alcoholic beverages:
- people who are pregnant or might be pregnant
- those younger than 21
- those recovering from alcohol use disorder (AUD)
- people who cannot regulate the amount they drink
Standard drink guidelines
- 12 ounces (oz) of regular beer, typically 5% alcohol
- 5 oz of wine, typically 12% alcohol
- 1.5 oz of distilled spirits, typically 40% alcohol
The following organizations have defined excessive alcohol use in males and females:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
According to the
- heavy drinking
- underage drinking
- drinking while pregnant
Heavy drinking is the
However, in a
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
This typically happens after consuming five or more drinks (for males) or four or more drinks (for females) in 2 hours.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
SAMHSA also considers a person’s drinking heavy if they have consumed four or more drinks (for females) or five or more drinks (for males) within 1 day in the past month.
Excessive drinking may carry certain risks for a person’s health.
Heavy drinking can seriously affect a person’s health because it affects the brain, the heart, and other organs. Below are some of the health problems it may
- coordination problems
- changes in mood and behavior, such as depression and anxiety
- high blood pressure
- fatty liver
- alcoholic hepatitis
Heavy episodic alcohol use during early adulthood can also contribute to excess weight gain and promote the transition to obesity or overweight status.
Weak immune system
Chronic heavy drinking lowers a person’s immunity and puts them
Learn more about the symptoms of a bacterial infection.
Mental health conditions
Excessive alcohol use increases a person’s risk of experiencing a new depressive episode. Plus, a 2016 study found that frequent drinking increases a person’s risk of subsequent depressive symptoms.
The more drinks a person regularly consumes over time, the greater their risk of developing alcohol-related cancers such as:
Violence and accidents
Excessive drinking may lead to external incidents,
Below are some ways a person can manage their drinking on single occasions:
- setting a limit and sticking to it
- counting each drink and its alcohol content
- drinking water beforehand
- eating before and while drinking
- finishing each drink before starting another
- drinking nonalcoholic beverages between alcoholic drinks
- drinking slowly
- putting down the drink between sips
It can be helpful for a person to identify the triggers that cause them to drink or situations that tempt them. They may also develop other strategies to reduce alcohol intake, such as socializing with friends who do not drink or setting up alcohol-free gatherings.
Not all people who drink excessively have an AUD, which doctors previously referred to as alcohol addiction or dependence.
Symptoms of an AUD
According to the
- an inability to limit their drinking
- continuation of drinking despite personal or professional problems
- a desire to drink so strong that they cannot think of anything else
- the need to drink more to experience the same effect
Anyone who plans to seek treatment for an AUD may first consult their doctor. A doctor can evaluate a person’s drinking pattern and overall health and craft a treatment plan.
- behavioral treatments such as counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy
- medications like Naltrexone, Acamprosate, and Disulfiram
- mutual-support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, which is an example of a 12-step program
A person can speak with their doctor to determine the best treatment method.
Stopping drinking alcohol has a wide array of physical and mental health benefits.
Depending on the severity of their alcohol use, a person may experience withdrawal symptoms that begin within
Withdrawal symptoms may last about a week, but most people can recover fully with proper medical detox and professional help.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 recommend drinking moderately, if at all. Moderate drinking consists of no more than one drink per day for females and no more than two per day for males.
Not everyone who drinks excessively has an AUD. However, a person should consult a doctor if they notice their behavior and drinking patterns worsening.
A medical professional can evaluate a person’s drinking pattern, prescribe any necessary medications, and refer a person to specialists who can help them quit drinking alcohol.