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Moderate Drinking Explained: Guidelines, Definition, & FAQs

Moderate Drinking Explained: Guidelines, Definition, & FAQs


9 minute read

Too much alcohol consumption can lead to a variety of health problems, and the risks to your health and safety increase along with the amount you drink.

That’s why there are guidelines in place for moderate drinking. If you’re looking to cut back on the alcohol, are sober curious, or just want to see your options out there in the world of moderate drinking, we have answers.

Moderate Drinking Definition

There’s no need for guesswork when defining moderate drinking. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has created public health guidelines for U.S. adults.

What is moderate drinking? Moderate drinking is defined as 2 drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women, per the CDC’s guidelines.

The CDC, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s dietary guidelines all agree that minimal drinking is better than even a moderate alcohol intake. In fact, none of these government agencies advise you to drink at all.

What is the difference between moderate and heavy drinking? The difference between moderate and heavy drinking is in the number of drinks consumed per week. For men, heavy drinking is defined as 15 or more drinks per week. For women, this number is reduced to 8 or more drinks per week. 

The CDC also defines binge drinking, which can lead to an array of health issues. A man who has 5 or more drinks over the course of 2 hours or less has been binge drinking. For women, the threshold is 4 or more drinks in that same period.

Moderate drinking for women vs. men

Scientifically speaking, women can become intoxicated faster than men. The following facts explain why moderate drinking limits are lower for women than for men:

  • Men typically have a larger body mass
  • Women have less water in their body mass to dilute alcoholic drinks
  • Women lack the higher concentrations of the enzyme gastric alcohol dehydrogenase, which serves to break down alcohol in the body 
  • Hormonal differences between men and women can cause alcohol to be metabolized differently

How many drinks a day is moderate? Two alcoholic drinks per day is considered moderate drinking for men. One drink per day is considered moderate drinking for women. The higher the alcohol content (ABV) of the beverage, the less you should drink.

What is considered to be a "standard drink?” A standard drink is typically considered 12 ounces of beer or 5 ounces of wine. Tall pours would then be more than a standard drink, and heavier beers and wines could count as more than one alcoholic beverage, too.

To break it down for you further, here’s how both the CDC and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) define a standard drink.

A standard drink is:

  • 12 ounces of light or regular beer (4.2-5% alcohol content)
  • 8 ounces of malt liquor (7% alcohol content)
  • 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol content)
  • 1.5 ounces of a distilled spirit, like gin, rum, or vodka (40% alcohol content)

Blood Alcohol Levels

Blood alcohol content (BAC) is a measurement of how much alcohol is in a person’s blood. How many drinks you’ve had, certain medical conditions, even what you had to eat before you started drinking can all affect your BAC.

Understanding state-by-state regulations around BAC is essential, both for legal reasons and to know when you’ve had too much to drink. In most states, the legal BAC limit is 0.08%. 

If you look at the science behind how BAC is measured, a BAC of 0.10% would mean 0.10g of ethanol for every 100 milliliters (ml) of blood. (That’s also well over the legal limit).

Driving And BAC Levels

BAC is important in identifying impairment when driving. The legal BAC limit is 0.08% in most states, but it’s wise to be aware of state-by-state regulations. In Utah, the legal limit is 0.05%. 

That said, it’s always best to designate a driver or call a ride service if you’ve been drinking at all. Even one drink can slow your reaction time and impair your driving. Some fun alternatives: indulge in tasty non-alcoholic drinks or hit a sober bar with other non-drinkers instead.

Benefits Of Moderate Drinking

Some studies have found a protective effect with low to moderate levels of alcohol on overall health. Low to moderate drinkers may have a lower risk of coronary heart disease if already heart-healthy, a lower risk of stroke, and improved diabetes outcomes.

However, those health benefits can quickly turn into health risks. Studies from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) have found that drinking frequency is a risk factor, even with moderate drinking. When in doubt, it’s safer to drink less.

Risks Of Moderate Drinking

While moderate drinking is undoubtedly a better idea than binge drinking, no amount of alcohol is completely risk-free when it comes to your health.

What are the risks of moderate drinking? The risks of moderate drinking include worsened health outcomes, developing a dependency on alcohol, and a higher risk of injury. That means even moderate amounts of alcohol could be harmful to your overall physical and mental health.

Drinking can put you at risk for:

  • Weight gain: Drinking alcohol is drinking empty calories. Those calories can add up, leading to weight gain over time. One meta-analysis found that weight gain is more common with beers and certain spirits than lighter beverages.
  • Increased risk for cancer: Alcohol has been linked to higher cancer risks for certain types of cancer, including gastrointestinal and breast cancer.
  • Cirrhosis: Liver damage and liver diseases like cirrhosis are health effects found in heavier drinkers. 
  • Cardiovascular disease: Too much alcohol can lead to high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and a bigger chance of developing heart disease. For those with problems with their cardiovascular health or at risk of heart failure, even red wine may not be wise.
  • Cognitive decline: One cohort study from the peer-reviewed BMJ found a link between even moderate drinking and adverse brain outcomes. 
  • Alcohol dependency: The difference between drinking and alcohol abuse can be a slippery slope, especially for those with a history of alcoholism. Epidemiology studies have found that women are at an even higher risk of developing an addiction than men. 
  • Increased injury risk: In the shorter term, alcohol dulls the senses and lowers inhibitions, leading to a higher risk of accidents, injury, and violence.

Determining whether you should drink should be based on several factors, including your own health and lifestyle, your history with alcohol, and your body’s own limitations. The effects of alcohol can also vary from person to person. 

For some, there is no safe amount of alcohol.

Groups That Should Not Drink

Some people teetotal by choice. Others shouldn’t drink at all. 

Groups that should abstain from alcohol entirely include:

  • Pregnant women (You have options, though, when it comes to drinks for pregnant women.)
  • Women who may become pregnant
  • Anyone under the legal age for drinking
  • Anyone taking medications that may interact with alcohol in a negative way
  • Those with alcohol use disorders or a history of alcoholism or substance abuse

Older adults may also be affected by alcohol differently than younger to middle-aged adults.

If you’re unsure whether you should be drinking alcohol, follow up with your doctor or healthcare provider. They’ll offer guidance on healthy drinking habits and whether you should be drinking at all.

If you find yourself in that boat, all hope isn’t lost. There are plenty of alcohol alternatives out there for you to explore, even in the crisp white wine category.

How To Drink In Moderation

If you’re looking to adopt healthier drinking patterns and better monitor your consumption of alcohol, there are ways to limit your alcohol intake in easy, more manageable ways. 

This is all keeping in mind that moderate alcohol consumption and moderation management programs aren’t appropriate for those groups we already listed above.

  • Hydrate. Drink lots of water before consuming any alcoholic beverages, and incorporate glasses of water between each drink. 
  • Set limits. Plan to drink less before you go out. Don’t mix drinks. Share your plan with a buddy going out with you to hold you accountable. Get inspired by sober celebrities.
  • Track what you drink. Some people count calories. If you’ve found yourself among heavy drinkers, you may need to set up a system where you track how much alcohol you’re consuming. 
  • Find other hobbies. It seems simple, but you’re likely to drink at a higher rate if your social activities revolve around alcohol. Come up with alcohol-free alternatives, like taking a walk to catch up or meeting for coffee instead of cocktails. Embrace movements like Dry January or Sober September. Get your friends on board.
  • Consider why you drink. Some people drink because it’s a social habit. Others find that they can’t relax without it. Think about your relationship with alcohol and whether it’s a healthy one. Find ways to replace those with choices that are better for you.
  • Choose non-alcoholic wine or other beverages. Surely’s alcohol-removed wines allow you to have a glass of wine that tastes more like the real thing, without the risk factors of alcohol. If you’re feeling festive, there are even sparkling varieties available. 

Less risk, more celebration.

It can be difficult adopting habits to moderate your drinking. No matter your reason for looking at your drinking habits, you may find that in the end, you don’t need alcohol at all. If you’re looking for an alcohol-free wine alternative, Surely has got you covered.

Try our alcohol-removed sparkling white wine if you’re looking to celebrate without the hangover, or our non-alcoholic rosé if the occasion calls for something pink.

Our non-alcoholic wines come with all of the flavor and none of the risk associated with even moderate drinking.

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