Are You Drinking Too Much?
The holiday season is full of temptations and indulgences when it comes to drinking. You may not even realize how often you drink alcohol during this time of year or how many glasses of wine you had at that holiday party. Before you know it, you or your loved ones may be wondering if you’re drinking too much.
While there’s certainly a difference between alcoholism and over-indulgent drinking, the effects on the body, brain, and behavior can be equally damaging. To ensure that you’re making healthy choices—even during the holidays—it helps to understand what responsible drinking looks like compared to alcohol abuse. Problematic drinking is not always as obvious as you might think.
What’s considered normal, healthy drinking?
According to guidelines supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, men under the age of 65 should consume no more than four drinks in a single day and no more than 14 drinks in a single week. Women under age 65 should have no more than three drinks in a single day and no more than seven drinks in a single week. Men and women over 65 are advised to have no more than three drinks within a day and seven per week.
These drinking habits are low-risk, meaning that the vast majority of adults who drink within these limits do not have an alcohol use disorder.
These statistics are based on the standard measure of a single “drink.”
How much alcohol is too much?
For healthy adults, drinking more than these single-day or weekly limits is statistically and medically considered “heavy” drinking. Risky drinking for men under age 65 is having more than four drinks on any given day or more than 14 drinks within a week. For women under age 65, at-risk drinking is consuming more than three drinks in one day or more than seven drinks in a week.
Approximately one quarter of adults whose drinking habits fall within this range have an alcohol use disorder, and the other 75% are at greater risk for becoming alcohol dependent and developing other health and personal wellness problems.
Drinking too much may seem harmless, especially if you consider yourself a “happy drunk.”
But it statistically increases your chances for a variety of problems, including:
- severe injuries
- sexual and physical assault
- heart and liver disease
- brain damage
- birth defects
- loss of driver’s license
- relationship and professional troubles
But I’m not an alcoholic, right?
Drinking responsibly is about making safe and healthy choices, not about labels.
If your drinking habits are beyond the guidelines for low-risk alcohol consumption, then now is the time to examine and acknowledge your behaviors so you can make changes before you develop serious health and lifestyle problems.
“When diagnosing an alcohol use disorder, I try to determine the frequency and quantity of drinks, consequences due to drinking and difficulty of controlling drinking habits,” said Dr. Ihsan Salloum, behavioral health expert at the University of Miami Health System.
“I ask my patients, ‘How many days a week do you drink? How many drinks do you usually consume in a single day? Does your drinking cause distress or harm to you or your loved ones?
“If they acknowledge that their drinking does have consequences, then we can work toward changing their behavior and taking steps to reduce their risk. I also try to determine if my patients are suffering from mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety or bipolar disorders since many of these problems increase the risk of alcohol use disorder and need to be optimally treated.”