Rethinking Your Drinking
April is Alcohol Awareness Month. Many people enjoy a drink at times – in fact, a 2019 survey showed that 69.5% of adults had had an alcoholic beverage in the last year. Occasional alcohol use can be an enjoyable addition to your social life. But for some people, occasional or even “moderate” alcohol use isn’t the norm. Excessive drinking can have personal, safety, and health effects.
What is moderate drinking?
The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans defines moderate drinking as 2 drinks or less per day for men, and 1 drink or less per day for women. If you thought “cool, I’ll just buy the beer in bigger cans,” not so fast. There is a very specific definition of a standard drink, and it might surprise you:
- Beer: One 12-ounce bottle or can of regular or light beer (about 5% alcohol) is a standard drink. If you prefer craft beer, IPAs, or hard seltzer, it’s important to pay attention to the alcohol content (ABV). Many of these products have an ABV higher than a regular beer, meaning a serving may be as little as 8-10 oz.
- Table wine: One 5-ounce glass of wine with an ABV of 12% is a standard drink. Again, it’s important to be aware of the ABV of the wine you are drinking – and the size of the glass. By law, the ABV is printed on the label of the bottle (sometimes in very tiny print!) A standard 750ml bottle of wine contains just about 5 5-ounce servings.
- Distilled spirits: One shot (1.5 ounces) of 80-proof gin, rum, tequila, vodka, whiskey, or cognac is a single serving. Remember that many cocktails contain more than one type of alcohol, and that a drink that fills a larger glass may contain more than one shot.
It’s also important to consider that some people shouldn’t drink at all. Pregnant women, those with health conditions such as alcoholism, diabetes, heart, pancreatic or liver disease, and people taking certain medications should not drink any alcohol.
What does heavy drinking look like?
Since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, some people are drinking more heavily than they used to. A 2021 survey found that 25% of people were drinking more to manage pandemic stress. For some, that heavier drinking means more frequent drinking, or drinking more than the one or two drinks per day that define moderate use. For others, it may mean drinking only on the weekends, but drinking a lot on those days. This type of drinking, called binge drinking, is drinking enough at one time to meet the legal definition of “intoxicated,” typically 4 drinks for women or 5 for men in a two-hour period.
What are the risks of heavy alcohol use?
You may have heard that moderate drinking can have health benefits, such as a lower risk of heart attack or stroke. This may be true, but the research is unclear at this point. What is clear is that heavier alcohol use carries serious risks, including:2
- Certain cancers: Drinking can increase your risk of certain cancers, including breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, colon, and liver.
- Cardiovascular disease: The risk of high blood pressure, stroke, and heart failure is higher in people who drink heavily.
- Liver disease: Liver disease, such as cirrhosis, is a risk in heavy drinkers. Half of all liver disease deaths in the U.S. are alcohol related.
- Injuries and fatalities: Alcohol is a contributor to many accidental injuries and fatalities from burns, drownings, automobile accidents and falls. It’s also a frequent factor in suicide and homicide.
- Personal and career: Alcohol misuse can cause family and career problems, even up to divorce or job loss.
Your EAP can help
If you are concerned about your or a loved one’s drinking, your EAP can help. MHN can refer you to a counselor who specializes in alcohol use or to resources in the community – at no charge to you.