What Is Moderate Drinking?

Moderation is key to living a healthy life, but that can be hard to do if you don’t know where the line between “normal” and “too much” falls. Fortunately, there are specific and defined drinking levels that can help you determine whether your alcohol consumption habit is normal (or not). In this article, we’ll discuss how much to drink is too much; standard drink sizes; and exactly what is moderate drinking. 

The Different Drinking Levels: What Is Moderate Drinking?

Moderate drinking is considered to be two drinks or fewer for men, and one drink or less per day for women. The physiological differences between the genders play an important role in how quickly alcohol is metabolized and how much a body can safely tolerate. However, this is only part of the equation, as there are other factors that can affect how much a person can safely consume. Age, physical fitness, BMI, and weight are just a few factors that can play a critical role in determining a “safe” amount of drinking. 

Is Moderate Drinking Good For You?

Studies present conflicting information on whether moderate drinking is necessarily good for you, although it has been linked to having positive benefits such as lowering the risk of stroke and depression. Moreso, the distinction seems to be that moderate drinking is the amount a person can drink without incurring major health risks. Heavy drinking, and even the occasional binge drinking episode, can cause a lot of damage, very quickly. Still, there is no “safe” amount of alcohol consumption, as it is quite literally a toxic compound that the liver works hard to neutralize. 

Binge Drinking vs Heavy Drinking

Binge drinking is when an individual drinks a certain amount in a certain period of time. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), this is defined as when a man drinks five or more drinks at the same time (or within the span of a few hours), or in the case for women, four or more drinks. The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism includes BAC (blood alcohol concentration) in their definition of binge drinking, which constitutes as drinking that brings the BAC level up to 0.08. 

Heavy drinking is less about the rapid succession of alcohol consumption and more about overall quantity. According to the NIAAA, heavy drinking for males is having 4 or more drinks in a single day or having more than 14 in a single week. For women, it’s 3 or more drinks in a day or 7 throughout the week. SAMSHA, however, defines it as five or more binge drinking sessions within the month. 

What’s In Your Cup? Standard Drink Size Definition

The size of a drink isn’t based on the cup that you’re drinking out of or the amount of liquid in it. Instead, drink size is based on the alcoholic content or ABV (alcohol by volume). Since this can vary greatly depending on whether it’s beer, wine, or hard liquor, the type of alcohol is the biggest determinant of what a standard drink is. 

In the United States, a standard drink is one that contains 14 grams of pure alcohol. Based on the average ABV of the respective beverage types, this equates to:

  • 12 ounces of beer (about 5% ABV)
  • 5 ounces of wine (about 12% ABV)
  • 1.5 ounces of hard liquor (about 40% ABV)

The higher the alcoholic content, the smaller the amount that qualifies as “one” drink. Although the exact amount can vary between the types of alcohol, this is still a helpful guide when trying to determine how many drinks you’ve consumed in a sitting. A single Long Island iced tea can contain two ounces of hard liquor in addition to liqueur (which has about 15-30% ABV) which is almost 2 standard drinks. Your standard pitcher of beer is 32 ounces, the equivalent of about 2.7 standard drinks. 

The Less You Drink, The Better

Ultimately, the healthiest amount of drinks is zero. While moderate alcohol consumption can minimize the likelihood that you put your health in danger or develop alcoholism, it is merely a guideline. It’s very possible for an individual to consume a “moderate” amount of alcohol but in an unhealthy way that rivals the negative effects of drinking in greater quantities.  

If you’ve found that your alcohol habits would land you in the bingeing or heavy drinker categories, cutting back can provide immediate benefits such as weight loss, improved cognition, and even better sleep. Finding it tough to ease up on drinking? You might have a drinking problem. Learn more about the signs of alcoholism, how it affects you, and what you can do to treat alcohol addiction


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