People drink alcohol to celebrate, socialize, and relax. While drinking alcohol itself is not necessarily a problem, alcohol often has a strong effect on people and can lead to a host of problems. Alcohol’s effects vary from person to person, depending on a variety of factors, including:
How much you drink
How often you drink
Your health status
Your family history
Many people are surprised to learn what counts as a drink. The amount of liquid in your can, bottle, or glass does not necessarily match up to how much alcohol is actually in your drink. Different types of beer, malt liquor, distilled spirits, or wine can have very different amounts of alcohol content. For example, many light beers have almost as much alcohol as regular beer – about 85% as much. That’s why it’s important to know how much alcohol your drink contains.
In the United States, one "standard" drink contains roughly 0.6 fluid ounces or 14 grams of pure alcohol, which is found in:
Even though they come in different sizes, the drinks listed above each contains approximately the same amount of alcohol and counts as one U.S. standard drink, also known as an alcoholic drink-equivalent. These examples serve as a starting point for comparison. For fact sheets about how to read the labels of alcohol drinks, visit the consumer corner of the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. If you’re curious and willing to do a little research on your beverage’s alcohol content, you can use free and anonymous calculators from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) to estimate the number of U.S. standard drinks in a cocktail or container.
In addition to knowing what a standard drink is, it is important to understand the different levels of drinking, so that you can recognize a potential problem with alcohol use. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, “moderate drinking” is defined as up to 1 drink per day for women of legal drinking age and up to 2 drinks per day for men of legal drinking age. These same guidelines define “heavy drinking” as the consumption of 4 or more drinks on any day or 8 or more drinks per week for women and 5 or more drinks on any day or 15 or more drinks per week for men, though definitions from other professional organizations may slightly vary. Lastly, the NIAAA defines “binge drinking” as a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08% or higher. This typically occurs after 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men, in about a 2-hour time period.
In closing, drinking does not necessarily mean that you have a problem with alcohol use. However, if you decide to drink, it is very important that you understand and manage alcohol’s power. If you think that you or someone you love has a problem with drinking alcohol, talk with your doctor or seek help from other healthcare professionals and/or organizations.
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