Moderate and Binge Drinking
Source: Moderate & Binge Drinking, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, NIAAA, NIH
Moderate or “low-risk” drinking
Research shows that people who drink moderately may be less likely to experience an alcohol use disorder (AUD). These drinking levels, which differ for men and women, are:
- No more than 4 drinks on any single day AND no more than 14 drinks per week
- No more than 3 drinks on any single day AND no more than 7 drinks per week
To stay low risk for AUDs, you must keep within both the single-day and weekly limits.
Even within these limits, you can have problems if you drink too quickly or have other health issues. To keep your risk for problems low, make sure you:
- Drink slowly
- Eat enough while drinking
Certain people should avoid alcohol completely, including those who:
- Plan to drive a vehicle or operate machinery
- Take medications that interact with alcohol
- Have a medical condition that alcohol can aggravate
- Are pregnant or trying to become pregnant
Heavy or “at-risk” drinking
For healthy adults in general, heavy drinking means consuming more than the single-day or the weekly amounts listed above. About 1 in 4 people who drink above these levels already has alcohol dependence or alcohol abuse problems.
Binge drinking means drinking so much within about 2 hours that blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels reach 0.08g/dL. For women, this usually occurs after about 4 drinks, and for men, after about 5.
Drinking this way can pose health and safety risks, including car crashes and injuries. Over the long term, binge drinking can damage the liver and other organs.
A Little Goes a Long Way: Know the Amounts
Source: Beyond Hangovers, NIAAA, NIH, http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/alcohol.html
Knowing how much alcohol constitutes a “standard” drink can help you determine how much you are drinking and understand the risks. One standard drink contains about 0.6 fluid ounces or 14 grams of pure alcohol. In more familiar terms, the following amounts constitute one standard drink:
- 12 fluid ounces of beer (about 5% alcohol)
- 8 to 9 fluid ounces of malt liquor (about 7% alcohol)
- 5 fluid ounces of table wine (about 12% alcohol)
- 1.5 fluid ounces of hard liquor (about 40% alcohol)
You’re chatting with friends at a party and a waitress comes around with glasses of champagne. You drink one, then another, maybe even a few more. Before you realize it, you are laughing more loudly than usual and swaying as you walk. By the end of the evening, you are too slow to move out of the way of a waiter with a dessert tray and have trouble speaking clearly. The next morning, you wake up feeling dizzy and your head hurts. You may have a hard time remembering everything you did the night before.
These reactions illustrate how quickly and dramatically alcohol affects the brain. The brain is an intricate maze of connections that keeps our physical and psychological processes running smoothly. Disruption of any of these connections can affect how the brain works. Alcohol also can have longer-lasting consequences for the brain—changing the way it looks and works and resulting in a range of problems.
Most people do not realize how extensively alcohol can affect the brain. But recognizing these potential consequences will help you make better decisions about what amount of alcohol is appropriate for you.
The brain’s structure is complex. It includes multiple systems that interact to support all of your body’s functions—from thinking to breathing to moving.
These multiple brain systems communicate with each other through about a trillion tiny nerve cells called neurons. Neurons in the brain translate information into electrical and chemical signals the brain can understand. They also send messages from the brain to the rest of the body.
Chemicals called neurotransmitters carry messages between the neurons. Neurotransmitters can be very powerful. Depending on the type and the amount of neurotransmitter, these chemicals can either intensify or minimize your body’s responses, your feelings, and your mood. The brain works to balance the neurotransmitters that speed things up with the ones that slow things down to keep your body operating at the right pace.
Alcohol can slow the pace of communication between neurotransmitters in the brain.
Alcohol can affect the brain at any stage of development—even before birth. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders are the full range of physical, learning, and behavioral problems, and other birth defects that result from prenatal alcohol exposure. The most serious of these disorders, fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), is characterized by abnormal facial features and is usually associated with severe reductions in brain function and overall growth. FAS is the leading preventable birth defect associated with mental and behavioral impairment in the United States today.
The brains of children with FAS are smaller than normal and contain fewer cells, including neurons. These deficiencies result in life-long learning and behavioral problems. Current research is investigating whether the brain function of children and adults with FAS can be improved with complex rehabilitative training, dietary supplements, or medications.
Americans know how prevalent heart disease is—about 1 in 12 of us suffer from it. What we don’t always recognize are the connections heart disease shares with alcohol. On the one hand, researchers have known for centuries that excessive alcohol consumption can damage the heart. Drinking a lot over a long period of time or drinking too much on a single occasion can put your heart—and your life—at risk. On the other hand, researchers now understand that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol can protect the hearts of some people from the risks of coronary artery disease.
Deciding how much, if any, alcohol is right for you can be complicated. To make the best decision for yourself, you need to know the facts and then consult your physician.
Research shows that healthy people who drink moderate amounts of alcohol may have a lower risk of developing coronary heart disease than nondrinkers. Moderate drinking is usually defined as no more than two drinks in a given day for men and one drink per day for women who are not pregnant or trying to conceive.
A variety of factors, including diet, genetics, high blood pressure, and age, can cause fat to build up in your arteries, resulting in coronary heart disease. An excess of fat narrows the coronary arteries, which are the blood vessels that supply blood directly to the heart. Clogged arteries reduce blood supply to the heart muscle, and make it easier for blood clots to form. Blood clots can lead to both heart attacks and strokes.
According to recent studies, drinking moderately can protect your heart from these conditions. Moderate drinking helps inhibit and reduce the build-up of fat in the arteries. It can raise the levels of HDL—or “good” cholesterol—in the blood, which wards off heart disease. It can help guard against heart attack and stroke by preventing blood clots from forming and by dissolving blood clots that do develop. Drinking moderately also may help keep blood pressure levels in check.
These benefits may not apply to people with existing medical conditions, or who regularly take certain medications. In addition, researchers discourage people from beginning to drink just for the health benefits. Rather, you can use this research to help you spark a conversation with your medical professional about the best path for you.