Alcohol. How Much Is Too Much?
Recommendations about alcohol use can be confusing. They talk about numbers of “drinks,” but the drink size varies with the type of alcohol. Let’s sort that out.
What Counts As One Drink?
According to federal government recommendations, a “drink” means .06 ounces of pure alcohol. This translates to:
- 12 ounces of regular beer
- 8 ounces of malt liquor
- 5 ounces of red or white wine
- 1.5 ounces or a “shot” of 80-proof distilled spirits or liquor (gin, rum, vodka, whiskey)
How many drinks are too many?
The government recommendations take into account that people tend to tolerate alcohol differently as they get older, and that men and women tend to respond differently, too.
Healthy men over age 65 and healthy women of any age
- No more than 7 drinks in a week and
- No more than 3 drinks in a single day
Healthy men up to age 65
- No more than 14 drinks in a week and
- No more than 4 drinks in a single day
If you have a health condition or you’re taking certain medications, be sure to talk with your doctor about drinking alcohol.
Risks and benefits
Moderate drinking seems to have a positive effect on heart health. This is because resveratrol, a substance found in red wine, may reduce bad cholesterol and raise good cholesterol. It may also help keep blood thin, causing fewer blood clots that clog coronary arteries.
However, for people who drink more than the recommended amounts, the health risks, including liver disease, sleep disorders, depression, stroke, and some kinds of cancer, outweigh any potential benefits.
Older people are at risk for alcohol overuse. Because lean body mass declines with age, it becomes easier to get intoxicated from little alcohol. Memory and balance issues make it easier to fall or get confused. Many older patients take medications that can interact with alcohol, causing toxic damage to the liver or other organs.
If you or someone you care about needs help limiting or avoiding alcohol, there are plenty of resources available. Your primary care provider is a good place to start. You can also contact:
US Family Health Plan Mental Health Self-Referrals
Provides a list of mental health professionals affiliated with US Family Health Plan.
National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD)
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
A government website with information, including information about alcohol use, specifically for combat vets.