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Guidelines for Safe Drinking:  A Summary By Terence T. Gorski

Summary:  According to Dr. Mary Dufour A standard drink equals: 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80 proof distilled spirits.  A safe or moderate level of drinking (i.e. how much a person can drink without being at risk of incurring negative biopsychosocial consequences) is no more than two drinks per day for men and no more than one drink per day for women.  The people who should not drink at all for health reasons are:  (1) Children & Adolescents;  (2) People who cannot or will not keep their consumption within the "safe levels" described above;  (3) Women who are pregnant or trying to conceive; (4) People who plan to drive or engage in other activities requiring skill or psychomotor coordination;  (5)  People using prescription or over-the-counter medication that adversely interacts with alcohol;  (6) People who are in recovery from alcoholism or other forms of substance abuse or have a past history of serious problems related to the use of alcohol or other drugs; and (7) People who have family members with serious alcohol or drug problems should be especially careful to limit their consumption to safe levels and to stop all drinking if the safe levels are exceeded consistently for any reason.

According to Dr. Mary Dufour the best standards for measuring the amount of alcohol consumed by patients in addiction treatment is found in the publication:  Nutrition and Your Health: Dietary Guidelines for Americans.  

A standard drink equals: 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80 proof distilled spirits.

A safe level of drinking (i.e. how much a person can drink without being at risk of incurring negative biopsychosocial consequences) is no more than two drinks per day for men and no more than one drink per day for women.

The people who should not drink at all for health reasons are:

1.  Children & Adolescents

2.  People who cannot or will not keep their consumption within the "safe levels" described above

3.  Women who are pregnant or trying to conceive

4.  People who plan to drive or engage in other activities requiring skill or psychomotor coordination

5.  People using prescription or over-the-counter medication that adversely interacts with alcohol.

6.  People who are in recovery from alcoholism or other forms of substance abuse or have a past history of serious problems related to the use of alcohol or other drugs.

7.  People who have family members with serious alcohol or drug problems should be especially careful to limit their consumption to safe levels and to stop all drinking if the safe levels are exceeded consistently for any reason.

From a public health perspective four things are clear: 

(1)  The accepted standards for safe drinking are routinely being exceeded by at least one third of the adult population who consider themselves "social drinkers" and all people under age twenty-one who drink at all; 

(2)  There is no such as "safe drinking" for people with a history of substance abuse or dependence; 

(3)  Most alcoholics would have no desire to keep their drinking within the guidelines of safe drinking; and (4)  people with a family history of substance abuse would be better off not drinking at all, and if they do choose to drink should exercise great caution. 

Here are some other highlights from Nutrition and Your Health: Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Alcoholic beverages supply calories but few nutrients. Alcoholic beverages are harmful when consumed in excess, and some people should not drink at all. Excess alcohol alters judgment and can lead to dependency and a great many other serious health problems.

Taking more than one drink per day for women or two drinks per day for men  can raise the risk for motor vehicle crashes, other injuries, high blood pressure, stroke, violence, suicide, and certain types of cancer.

Even one drink per day can slightly raise the risk of breast cancer. Alcohol consumption during pregnancy increases risk of birth defects. Too much alcohol may cause social and psychological problems, cirrhosis of the liver, inflammation of the pancreas, and damage to the brain and heart. Heavy drinkers also are at risk of malnutrition because alcohol contains calories that may substitute for those in nutritious foods. If adults choose to drink alcoholic beverages, they should consume them only in moderation —and with meals to slow alcohol absorption.

Drinking in moderation may lower risk for coronary heart disease, mainly among men over age 45 and women over age 55. However, there are other factors that reduce the risk of heart disease, including a healthy diet, physical activity, avoidance of smoking, and maintenance of a healthy weight.

Moderate consumption provides little, if any, health benefit for younger people. Risk of alcohol abuse increases when drinking starts at an early age. Some studies suggest that older people may become more sensitive to the effects of alcohol as they age.

Source:  Dufour, Mary C., What Is Moderate Drinking? Defining "Drinks" and Drinking Levels, Alcohol & Health, Vol 23, No. 1, 1999  <Go To The Full Report For Printing>

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