Alcohol - How Much Is Too Much?

Written by Dr. Krishnadas Thulasidoss and medically reviewed by Dr. Sneha Kannan

Image: Alcohol - How Much Is Too Much?

Alcoholism and its related health consequences are a major health care issue all over the world. The social, economic and health consequences are well known. But it is also important to acknowledge the fact that alcohol is an important part of our lives in the form of relaxation, fine dining, socialization, etc. The common man/woman who wants to enjoy drinking responsibly faces a lot of questions. Some of them are: 1) Am I drinking within limits/how much is too much? 2) Am I addicted to alcohol? You can find answers to these questions in this article.

Am I Drinking Within Limits/How Much is Too Much?

  • It is important to recognize that alcohol and its effects vary between sexes, ethnic groups and even amongst individuals.
  • Women are less tolerant to the effects of alcohol than men.
  • Alcohol is processed in the body through two enzymes (ADH - Alcohol dehydrogenase and ALDH - Aldehyde Dehydrogenase).
  • The function of these enzymes varies among individuals and some, therefore, suffer worse health consequences than others drinking at equivalent amounts.
  • There is also a clear racial and ethnic difference in alcohol-related effects.
  • You have to take into account the above factors and judge yourself as an individual regarding your body’s ability to handle alcohol.
  • Still, to know how much you drink, there needs to be a quantification system.
  • Alcohol consumption is standardized (standard drink) in many countries.
  • It is easier to calculate your consumption in standardized quanta or portions.

The British Units system is easy, as the units can be calculated by Alcohol By Volume (ABV) mentioned in the beverage container and the amount consumed in mL as well as clear guidelines.

  • 1 unit is defined as 10mL of pure alcohol (7.9 grams).
  • The following formula can give you exactly the units you consume and all you require are the ABV and the amount you drink.
  • It’s as follows: Units = ABV% x amount consumed in mL/1000.
  • For example, if you drink 100mL of 40% whiskey, the units you have consumed will be 40X100/1000 = 4 units.

The UK recommendation is that men should not drink more than 3-4 units per day and women not more than 2-3 units per day. Also, weekly not more than 21 units for a man and 14 units for woman are recommended. Binge drinking is defined as drinking more than 8 units a session for men and 6 units for women. Again, as mentioned earlier it is advisable to fix your own ‘dosage’ of alcohol as per your sex, ethnic group and tolerance level. Also, it is important to have 2-3 alcohol free days per week to reduce the chance of tolerance to alcohol which reduces the chance of dependence and excessive drinking. For example, for a man, it should be 50-60% per day (1.5-2 units) of the UK recommendation 3-4 days per week for instance.

Now let us see the units in common alcoholic beverages:

  • Small bottle of beer (4-5%) (approximately 350mL) - 1.7 units.
  • 175mL of wine (13%) - 2.3 units.
  • 25mL of spirit -1 unit (brandy, whiskey, gin, rum, vodka, etc.).

Now, you should be able to know how much exactly you are drinking and whether it is within limits that you think is appropriate for your sex and ethnicity.

Am I Addicted to Alcohol?

Well, if you are asking this question, you should first calculate your daily/weekly unit consumption.

Doctors ask what is called a CAGE questionnaire to screen people for alcoholism and dependence.

C - have you ever felt the need to Cut down on drinking?

A - have you ever been Annoyed by other's criticism about your drinking?

G - Have you ever felt Guilty about drinking?

E - Have you ever felt the need to drink, as the first thing in the morning to overcome the hangover (Eye opener)?

If your answer is yes for more than 2 out of 4 or yes for drinking as eye opener (E in CAGE), then you have a problem with alcoholism.

I hope this discussion has helped you in deciding your alcohol limitation and enable you to maintain your health.

Consult an internal medicine physician online for guidance to quit alcohol -->

Last reviewed at: 16.Mar.2019



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