What’s Your Relationship With Alcohol?

Nicole GreeneLadies, a recent study shows that we’re catching up with men when it comes to alcohol use — and misuse. That means we’re also dealing with how it hurts our health. This is especially true for younger women. If you enjoy going to happy hour after work, late-night partying, or the occasional day drinking, are you overdoing it?

Being mindful of your relationship with alcohol is important to your overall health. But to be mindful, you need the basics. Do you know how much alcohol is OK to drink, or what counts as one drink? Not sure? Don’t worry! Here are some answers to common questions that will help you make smart decisions about drinking.

  1. How much alcohol is OK to drink? The key is moderation. Per the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, that’s up to one drink a day for women. Men can drink up to two drinks a day, because their bodies react differently to alcohol. For example, women tend to start having alcohol-related problems at lower drinking levels than men do. Of course, you shouldn’t be drinking if you’re under 21, taking medicines that interact with alcohol, pregnant or trying to get pregnant, planning on driving, or suffering from certain medical conditions.
  2. What counts as one drink? It’s not as simple as one beer or a glass of wine. Some drinks have different alcohol contents, and the pour you get at the bar may be more than the equivalent of one drink. But here’s a breakdown of a standard drink: 12 ounces of beer (5% alcohol), 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol content), or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits (40% alcohol). 
  3. What does excessive drinking really mean? It includes binge drinking, heavy drinking, or drinking while pregnant. Binge drinking is the most common. For women, it means drinking four or more drinks in about two hours. Heavy drinking means women have eight or more drinks in a week. Being an excessive drinker does not mean that someone is an alcoholic. But over time, it can lead to serious problems.
  4. What kinds of problems can too much drinking cause? There are short- and long-term health risks associated with excessive drinking. Some of the immediate effects may include injuries, such as car crashes or falls; violence and sexual assault; alcohol poisoning; or risky sexual behaviors like unprotected sex, which puts you at risk for unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections. Long term, drinking too much can lead to chronic diseases and health problems like heart disease and stroke, some cancers, learning and memory problems, social problems like issues with family and friends, and mental health problems, including depression and anxiety.
  5. Is excessive drinking related to mental health problems? Some people use alcohol to blow off steam, but if you’re drinking to relieve feelings of stress, anxiety, or depression, it can actually make things worse. If you’re using alcohol to cope with your feelings, help is available.

Now's the time to check in on your alcohol habits. Are you drinking excessively, or do you need to make some changes? Start by learning about your drinking pattern, and then get specific ideas on how to cut back, if needed.