Let’s face it: at one point in your life, you may have overindulged in the drinking department. Though you regretted it the next day, you may have joked about it. But drinking alcohol is serious business that can lead to potentially dangerous consequences – for you and for others. A 2008 study by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that approximately 79,000 deaths in the United States annually can be attributed to excessive alcohol use. There is, however, such thing as responsible alcohol consumption.

Drinking responsibly means, in part:

  • being aware of when you can drink and when you should not;
  • how much alcohol is standard in one beverage;
  • how much it takes for you to feel the effects of alcohol; and
  • what can happen to your body if you drink too much, both at one time and over a lifetime.
Is there a “right time” to drink? Not if you are under 21 years of age, the legal drinking age in the United States. Alcohol consumption contributes to more than 4,600 deaths annually of people under 21, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is also never OK to drink alcohol while you are pregnant, as even a minimum amount of alcohol can cause physical and mental disabilities associated with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. If you are a recovering alcoholic, it also is best to stay away from situations that might prompt alcohol consumption.

Drinking responsibly also means knowing how much is considered one drink by legal standards (which differs depending on the type of alcohol), and how much alcohol can impair you. Moderate drinking – which means one alcoholic drink per day for women and anyone over age 65, and two drinks for men under age 65 – is considered safe for most people. By law, a standard drink is 13.7 grams, or 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol, which translates to:

  • 12 ounces of beer
  • 8 ounces of malt liquor
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits or liquor
How much alcohol it takes to weaken your judgment and coordination depends on several factors, such as your age, body weight and gender, as well as how much you ate before you drank and how quickly you consumed the alcohol. In fact, your body may feel the effects of alcohol before your mind registers them, which means any drinking over what is defined as moderate is risky.

How much, then, is too much alcohol? Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a document created by the United States Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, defines heavy drinking as consuming more than one drink per day for women and more than two drinks per day for men, and binge drinking as consuming four or more alcoholic beverages at one time for women and five for men.

More than moderate drinking increases the risk of cirrhosis of the liver, inflammation of the pancreas, some types of cancers, high blood pressure, stroke and heart and brain damage. Alcohol also can also lead to psychiatric problems like addiction, depression and suicide.

More than half — 55 percent — of Americans drink alcohol, according to the 2005 USDA and HHS report. The key to responsible alcohol consumption is knowing the facts about this widely accepted pastime, and acting on those facts to keep yourself and others safe. 

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See also:

Responsible alcohol drinking