Low-risk drinking

Abstaining from drinking — or drinking within moderate, low-risk limits — reduces your risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, liver disease, physical injuries, and a range of other health problems. It also has many health benefits — such as helping you manage your weight, sleep better, and maintain a positive outlook.
 

What are the recommended drinking limits

The guidelines below outline healthy drinking limits for men and women.

Men 21-64


Per day: No more than 4 drinks

Per week: No more than 14 drinks

Women 21+, Men 65+


Per day: No more than 3 drinks

Per week: No more than 7 drinks

 

What is a standard drink?

A standard drink contains about 0.6 fluid ounces or 12 tablespoons of pure alcohol. Although the drinks pictured below are different sizes, each contains about the same amount of alcohol and counts as a single drink. That’s because different drinks contain different amounts of alcohol.

Remember, it’s the amount of alcohol you consume — rather than the type of drink — that affects you most.

approximate alcohol content

Some examples of a standard drink (and alcohol content) are 12 ounces of beer (5% alcohol), 8 ounces of malt liquor (7% alcohol), 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol), 1.5 ounces or one “shot” of 80-proof spirits like gin, rum, vodka, or whiskey (40% alcohol).

Different brands and types of beverages may vary in their actual alcohol content.


Based on your health, age, and how alcohol affects you personally, you may want to consider drinking less than even moderate amounts, or not at all. Women are often advised to drink less than men, because, in general, they don’t process alcohol as quickly.

Even in moderation, drinking too much too quickly can elevate your blood alcohol concentration to a dangerous level. This typically occurs after 4 drinks for a woman or 5 drinks for a man in one sitting.

 

Tips for moderating your drinking

It can help to set healthy limits when you drink. Try these suggestions to keep drinking in check or choose any other method that works for you.

  • Pace yourself. Sip slowly and keep an eye on the clock. Limit yourself to one drink an hour.
  • Use drink “spacers” — nonalcoholic drinks between alcoholic ones.
  • Choose drinks with a lower alcohol content, like light beer.
  • Eat before or while drinking. Alcohol is absorbed more slowly if you have food in your stomach.
  • Be ready to say “no thanks” if you’re offered a drink when you don’t want one. Never feel pressured to have a drink.

Find more tools and tips for safe drinking at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s Rethinking Drinking website.

 

When low-risk drinking is still too much

Doctors advise avoiding alcohol altogether if you are:

  • Driving or operating machinery
  • Pregnant, breastfeeding, or planning to get pregnant
  • Taking medication that interacts with alcohol, including over-the-counter and prescription drugs to treat pain, colds, coughs, allergies, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), diabetes, blood pressure, and cholesterol
  • Managing a health condition that alcohol can make worse, including liver disease, bipolar disorder, abnormal heart rhythms, chronic pain, and others
  • Under the legal drinking age of 21

 


Other care options

Learn more about care options for other patterns of drinking:

Take the self-assessment

Not sure where you fall on the scale from low- to high-risk drinking? Take this short self-assessment to find out.

Self-assessment

 

 


Reviewed by Stacy Sterling, DrPH, MSW, February 2019