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Alcohol: How Much Is Too Much?

What Is a Safe Drinking Level?

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Updated May 16, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Men drinking

For men, low-risk alcohol consumption is drinking four or fewer standard drinks on any single day and less than 14 drinks during any given week.

Justin Lewis/Iconica/Getty Images

When trying to determine if your drinking habits are worrisome, you'll likely wonder: How much is too much?

Millions of people drink alcoholic beverages on a regular basis without ever developing a drinking problem; they do not become alcohol abusers, alcohol dependent, or alcoholics. But how do you know if you are drinking at a safe level? How much alcohol can you drink and still be considered a low-risk drinker? How much is puts you in the high-risk group?

According to extensive research by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), less that 2% of drinkers who fall within the following guidelines ever develop alcohol use disorders:

Four or Fewer Drinks for Men

For men, low-risk alcohol consumption is drinking four or fewer standard drinks on any single day and less than 14 drinks during any given week. According to the NIAAA, to remain low risk, both the daily and weekly guidelines must be met.

In other words, if you are a man and you drink only four standard drinks per day, but you drink four every day, you are drinking 28 drinks per week -- twice the recommended level for low-risk alcohol consumption. Likewise, drinking four drinks a day four times a week would also exceed the guidelines.

Three or Fewer Drinks for Women

Research has shown that women develop alcohol problems at lower levels of consumption than men. Therefore, the guidelines for low-risk drinking are lower for females. The NIAAA guidelines for women are three or fewer standard drinks a day and no more than seven drinks per week.

As for men, both the daily and weekly standards must be met to remain in the low-risk category. If you drink only two drinks a day, but drink them every day, that is 14 drinks a week -- twice the recommended amount for low-risk consumption.

'Low Risk' Does Not Mean 'No Risk'

There are some situations in which no level of drinking can be considered low-risk. Depending on your age, health and other circumstances, you may need to drink even less or not drink at all. Here are some circumstances in which you may need to stop drinking altogether:

 

What If You Drink Too Much?

If you regularly exceed the above guidelines for low-risk drinking, you might want to take this quiz to see if your drinking level might fall into the definitions of alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence. You may want to seek help in cutting down your alcohol consumption or quitting entirely.

Sources:

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. "What's a Standard Drink?" Updated 2005.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. "Rethinking Drinking: Alcohol and Your Health." February 2009.

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