How Much Alcohol Constitutes Alcohol Abuse?
If you’ve ever spent a long morning recovering from a night out drinking, you may be wondering how much alcohol is considered abuse. The truth is there are few hard and fast rules that define how much is safe to drink.
Older adults, teenagers and those who have a genetic link to addiction may not be able to safely drink anything at all. Others seem to be able to go out every weekend without suffering any consequences. Many stick to drinking one or two drinks per day and never seem to want more. How can you tell if your consumption is safe?
Men and Women
When it comes to alcohol tolerance, men and women are not created equal. Women cannot biologically tolerate the same amounts of alcohol that men can; in fact, the definition of binge drinking is different for men and women.
Men may drink up to four drinks in one day safely, while women can only drink three drinks in the same amount of time. Over the course of a week, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommends that men drink less than 14 drinks. That means drinking four drinks a day, every day, is not safe. Women, who develop alcohol dependency problems at lower consumption rates, can only drink seven drinks per week safely.
Keep in mind one drink equals a standard size beer, glass of wine or shot of liquor. Larger amounts count more.
“Recommended” Doesn’t Mean “Safe”
Although the NIAAA guidelines are an excellent place to start, individual circumstances further define safe drinking limits. For example, a 110-pound woman who drinks three drinks at happy hour twice per week after work is well within her “recommended” weekly consumption zone; however, should she decide to get in a car and drive home, the police may disagree.
Remember, alcohol impairs judgment — and people who drink are far more likely to suffer an accident than those who are sober. Therefore operating any sort of machinery is ill-advised when any amount of drinking has taken place.
There are other occasions when the NIAAA limits are not appropriate. If you take certain medications for common conditions, such as heart disease, depression or anxiety, you may not be able to drink alcohol at all. Expectant mothers should strictly limit alcohol intake, as should those with cirrhosis of the liver, hepatitis C, bipolar disorder or chronic pain.
Certain drugs — especially narcotic painkillers, such as Vicodin, and benzodiazepines, such as Xanax — are extremely dangerous when taken with even as few as one or two drinks. Even over the counter medicines such as ibuprofen, Benadryl and Tylenol can cause life-threatening medical problems when combined with alcohol.
How to Know If You Drink Too Much
If you’re still not sure whether or not your consumption falls within safe limits, or if you suspect you may be developing a problem with alcohol, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I hide or lie about how much I drink from others?
- Do I have a drink in the morning just to get the day started?
- Do I alternate periods of abstinence with periods of abuse?
- Am I having more problems with money or relationships than I used to?
- Do I avoid situations where alcohol won’t be available?
- Do I feel tense in social situations unless I can drink?
- Do I suffer from anxiety, shakiness and agitation when I can’t drink?
- Do things happen when drinking that I feel badly about later?
- Do I spend more time with a new crowd or alone?
- Do I have problems with work or school when I drink?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, it might be time to get help.