Based on available scientific evidence and different references provided by a variety of public health authorities, below are guidelines on amounts of drinking and what is considered a low-risk and heavy or at-risk drinking pattern.
What’s “low-risk” moderate drinking?
- Up to 1 drink unit a day for women
- Up to 2 drink units a day for men
- No more than 4 drink units on any one occasion
Although many people enjoy moderate drinking, tipping the balance between drinking for pleasant effects to drinking that can cause harm is based on a variety of factors such as age, gender, drinking experience, the amount of food ingested, and even ethnicity.
What’s “at-risk” or “heavy” drinking?
- More than 3 drinks on any day or more than 7 per week for women
- More than 4 drinks on any day or more than 14 per week for men
This pattern of drinking too much, too often, is associated with an increased risk for alcohol use disorders.
- 4 or more drinks within 2 hours for women
- 5 or more drinks within 2 hours for men
Alcohol overdoses can range in severity, from loss of balance and slurred speech to coma or even death. Research shows that underage drinkers are often at a higher risk for alcohol overdose as lack of drinking experience plays a big factor in this age group.
As BAC increases, so do alcohol’s effects—as well as the risk for harm. Even small increases in BAC can decrease coordination, make a person feel sick, and cloud judgment. This can lead to injury from falls or car crashes, leave one vulnerable to sexual assault or other acts of violence, and increase the risk for unprotected or unintended sex. When BACs go even higher, amnesia (or blackouts) can occur.
Although the “standard” drink amounts are helpful for following health guidelines, they often do not reflect customary serving sizes. In addition, while the alcohol concentrations listed are “typical,” there is considerable variability in alcohol content within each type of drink (e.g., beer, wine, distilled spirits).