Drinking is very much a part of our American culture. We drink to celebrate new jobs, relationships and birthdays, to relax after a day of yard work, and to mourn friends and family who have passed on. Drinking itself isn’t a problem in and of itself, but my time as a peer educator on a college campus has shown some of the ways that society’s view on what is considered “normal” drinking is skewed. This post is intended to help clarify misunderstandings related to alcohol consumption.
First things first, what exactly is alcohol? Alcohol is a made by the fermentation of sugars, yeasts, and starches depending on what type of alcohol you’re drinking. It is a depressant of the central nervous system and is metabolized by the liver. However, the liver can only metabolize alcohol in small increments, which leads to the intoxicating effect. Alcohol affects everyone differently depending on your age, sex, weight, what you ate beforehand, etc.That means, what your best friend may be able to drink and keep their head, doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be able to do the same. In order to stay within dietary guidelines designed by the CDC, a woman should not have more than one drink per day and a man should not have more than two drinks per day.
One common misconception regarding alcohol is related to quantity and standard drink sizes. One red solo cup of varying liquors is most likely not one “drink.” The standard is 12 oz. of beer, 5 oz. of wine, and 1.5 oz of liquor. A standard bottle of wine (750mL) is about five servings of wine, and a pint of whiskey is around 8 servings of liquor. Mixed drinks at bars may contain anywhere from two to five servings of liquor. It is always good to keep in mind not just how many cups, cans or glasses you’ve had, but rather to watch how much alcohol is in those containers.
Now, a large majority of people drink more than one or two drinks in a day.The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) considers low risk drinking behaviors for woman as no more than three drinks, and for men no more than four drinks in a day. Also, a woman should not consume more than seven drinks in a week, and a man should not consume more than 14 drinks in a week. These standards do not necessarily prevent a person from having problems with alcohol, but these consumption standards are considered to have a lower risk of abuse than heavier drinking.
Another widely used term surrounding alcohol is binge drinking, which is a big topic on college campuses especially. Binge drinking is when a woman has four or more drinks and a man has five or more drinks in a two-hour time span. This is especially dangerous since the body is incapable of processing alcohol that quickly and can result in blackouts, alcohol poisoning, coma, and even death. It is very important to pace yourself with water and to limit your alcohol intake so that you are able to make good decisions.
So how do you identify the line between moderate alcohol use and having a problem? If alcohol has started to cause problems in your relationships, school, work, social activities, or in your own thoughts, talking to your medical professional would be a good place to start! If you’re uneasy about speaking to your medical provider, you can call the National Drug and Alcohol Treatment Referral Routing Service at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). It can never hurt to get a second opinion on your drinking habits, and it ultimately will help you make the best decisions you can for yourself.