You may think that alcohol is safe to consume compared to other substances - however, studies suggest that there is no healthy amount of alcohol use.
To reduce the risk of harm, the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that "adults of legal drinking age can choose not to drink, or to drink in moderation by limiting intake to 2 drinks or less in a day for men or 1 drink or less in a day for women, on days when alcohol is consumed.”
It goes on to recommend against starting to drink for individuals who don’t currently drink alcohol.
No Drinking At All
If any of the following apply, you should not drink any alcohol.
You are pregnant, might be pregnant, or trying to conceive.
You are under the legal age of 21 years.
You are driving, operating machinery, etc.
You have certain medical conditions in which alcohol can worsen.
You take medications that can interact with alcohol.
You are in recovery from an alcohol use disorder.
What’s a “Drink?”
Alcoholic drinks may be served in various amounts and the amount of alcohol per serving can be quite different, depending on the beverage. Use the following when considering the definition of “a drink.”
What is Risky Drinking?
Drinking any amount of alcohol can be risky, however, there is an especially high chance of problems with certain drinking behaviors or situations.
Binge drinking is defined as consuming five or more drinks for males or four or more drinks for females on a single occasion (e.g. within hours of each other).
Drinking and Alcohol-Impaired Driving
Drinking and driving is unfortunately very common. In the U.S. in 2018, those who were alcohol-impaired drove about 147 million times. And, about one in three traffic deaths is associated with a driver with a high blood alcohol level (depending on the state, a person is considered impaired if their blood alcohol is 0.05% or 0.08%).
Alcohol and Pregnancy
No amount of alcohol is safe for women who are pregnant, might be pregnant, or trying to conceive. When pregnant women drink alcohol, there is an increased risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).
Mixing Alcohol with Caffeine of Energy Drinks
Mixing alcohol and caffeine can be very dangerous. Since caffeine is a stimulant and alcohol is a depressant, caffeine can “hide” the effects of alcohol. A person may drink more alcohol and end up more intoxicated.
Mixing alcohol with energy drinks is popular, especially among young people. The drinks often have caffeine and other ingredients that may also mask the effects of alcohol.
Alcohol’s Effect on Your Health
Long-term, excess alcohol use may lead to serious health problems including:
High blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke
Liver disease and digestive problems
Weakened immune system
Learning and memory problems (including dementia)
Alcohol use can also cause family, financial, and job-related problems.
Unhealthy Drinking Patterns
A person may continue to drink even though they are impaired. This may lead to alcohol intoxication (also called alcohol poisoning or alcohol overdose).
Alcohol intoxication can be life-threatening - with too much alcohol in your bloodstream, part of your brain begins to “shut down,” which affects breathing, heart rate, body temperature, etc.
The symptoms include trouble breathing, slowed heart rate, very low body temperature, confusion, vomiting, seizures, loss of consciousness, etc.
Drinking alcohol and taking other prescription, over-the-counter, or illegal drugs is even more dangerous.
As mentioned, binge drinking means you drink a substantial amount of alcohol in a short period of time.
1 in 6 adults in the U.S. binge drink and of those individuals, about 1 out of 4 do it at least every week.
Heavy Alcohol Use
Heavy alcohol use is another unhealthy drinking pattern. It may be defined as:
Four plus drinks on any day or fourteen or more drinks per week for males.
Three plus drinks on any day or seven or more drinks per week for females.
Binge drinking on five or more days within the past month.
Both binge drinking and heavy alcohol use can increase an individual's risk of alcohol use disorder.
Continued use of alcohol may put you at risk for developing alcohol use disorder i.e. becoming alcohol-dependent. It may also put you at heightened risk of related problems - those affecting your health, family, work, finances, and social activities.
Reducing Alcohol Use
If you want to drink less, the following can help:
Work with your coach to create a plan and set goals.
Use reminders to help you follow your plan. The reminders may be smartphone alerts, written Post-ItⓇ notes, calendar entries, etc.
You’ll want to:
Limit your drinking. Choose certain days and the number of drinks. For example, you might decide to have one drink one day a week. There are also apps that help you track the amount of alcohol you’re drinking (e.g. DrinkControl).
Avoid your drinking triggers. They may be people with whom you drink or places or situations in which you commonly drink.
Have support in place. If you want to drink less, share the information with your doctor, close friend or family member - they can provide support.
Of course, your Goodpath coach is always there to help.