Safe Drinking: How Much is Too Much in the USA?

addiction-glassesMany people are surprised to know how much alcohol they are really drinking.  One drink served in a bar is often more than one Standard Drink.  A Standard Drink is the name given to any alcoholic drink that contains a specific amount of alcohol.  One Standard Drink does not depend on the amount of liquid in the glass, but on how much alcohol is contained in that amount of liquid.

The actual amount each country decides is ‘A Standard Drink’ differs from one country to another.  In the USA, a ‘Standard Drink’ contains 14 grams of ‘pure’ alcohol, which is about 0.6 fluid ounces of “pure” alcohol.  This does not mean 0.6 fluid ounces of liquid in the glass, but 0.6 fluid ounces of pure alcohol contained in that liquid in the glass.

This doesn’t give you very useful information if you are trying stay under what are regarded as ‘Safe’ levels of drinking.  Drinks that you buy, or serve at home, vary in size (quantity) and also alcohol content.  Different types of beer, wine and liquor can have very different amounts of alcohol in them.

 For example, many light beers have almost as much alcohol as regular beer – about 85% as much.   Or in other words:

  • Regular beer: 5% alcohol content
  • Some light beers: 4.2% alcohol content

Safe Drinking: What is a Standard Drink in the USA?

So how can anyone know how much alcohol we are drinking if we only know that 14grams of pure alcohol is called One Standard Drink?

In the real world, we need to know how many ‘normal’ or ‘average’ real life drinks we can drink in one day, one week, or on one occasion if we want to stay inside the accepted Safe Drinking Guidelines.

Many Drink Serves Contain More Than One Standard Drink

As a general rule, you can assume that most drinks you get served will contain more than One Standard Drink.

There are 2 reasons for this:

  1. A Standard Drink is smaller than most people think.
  2. Most glasses, bottles or cans contain more than One Standard Drink’s worth of alcohol

For example, a Customary Serving Size for a single mixed drink made with hard liquor can contain 1 to 3, or maybe more standard drinks, depending on the type of spirits and the recipe used.

Examples of ‘One Standard Drink’ in USA

  • 12 ounces of regular beer, which is usually about 5% alcohol
  • 5 ounces of wine, which is typically about 12% alcohol
  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits, which is about 40% alcohol

That’s still not very useful. Not many people would know what 1.5 fluid ounces, or 5, or 12 fluid ounces of liquid actually looks like.

How Do You Know How Much Alcohol Is In Your Drink?

Even though they come in different sizes, the drinks below are each examples of One Standard Drink:

standard drink USA

Courtesy: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, USA

 

Notice for example, that one standard drink of wine is only about ½ a normal sized glass of wine.  That means that a full glass of wine will usually contain almost 2 Standard Drink’s worth of alcohol.

And one standard drink of malt liquor fills only just over ½ of a 12oz glass.  So a full 12 oz glass of malt liquor will contain almost 2 Standard Drinks of alcohol.

Safe Drinking: How Much is Too Much?

‘Too Much’ alcohol is any amount of drinking above the so-called Safe Levels of drinking guidelines.

The USA Safe Drinking Guidelines Are:

For men:

  • No more than 4 drinks on any single day AND
  • No more than 14 drinks per week

For women:

  • No more than 3 drinks on any single day AND
  • No more than 7 drinks per week

Important: To stay within in the low risk levels of drinking, you must keep within both the single-day and weekly limits.

safe level drinking USA

Courtesy: National Institute for Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism, USA

How Safe Is It To Drink Within Safe Drinking Guidelines?

So called Safe drinking levels only means Low Risk of health or social problems.  ‘Safe drinking’ means Low risk, not NO risk. Even within these limits, you can still 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
  • Stay within the daily, and weekly, Safe Drinking Guidelines

About 1 in 4 people who exceed these limits already has alcoholism or alcohol abuse, and the rest are at greater risk for developing these and other problems.

Again, individual risks vary. People can have problems drinking less than these amounts, particularly if they drink too quickly.

Binge Drinking: What Does That Mean?

In the USA, 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
  • For men, after about 5 standard drinks

Drinking this way can pose health and safety risks, including car crashes and injuries. Over the long term, binge drinking can permanently damage the liver, the brain, and other organs.

The definition of Binge Drinking differs from county to country.  In Australia, Binge Drinking means drinking over one period of time where the Blood Alcohol Concentration never returns to normal between sessions.  This definition means you can drink over several days, and if the alcohol in your blood never returns to normal during that time, that whole period counts as Binge Drinking.

Safe Drinking Guidelines also differ in different countries.  In Australia, these limits have recently been reduced so that now, Safe Drinking is

‘No more than 2 Standard Drinks on any day for BOTH men and women’.

These tighter Guidelines were introduced as a result of more recent Research Data showing the adverse effects of alcohol at the level of the previous Safe Drinking Guidelines.

The only NO risk level of drinking is NO drinking.  Once people understand the risks to themselves and others posed by alcohol, they can make informed decisions about how much they drink.

Please drink responsibly for the safety of yourself, and those around you.

References:

NIAAA National Institute of Alcohol Abuse And Alcoholism, USA

Rethinking Drinking: NIAAA

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