Rethinking Drinking

Besides warmer weather and some sunshine, April also represents alcohol awareness month. While it is important to discuss the risks of alcohol, agencies like the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism share the point that people often have two views on drinking alcohol. Either that people have a drinking problem, or that they can handle it. In other words, either alcohol is ruining someone’s life, or someone is drinking responsibly. The belief that it’s one or the other can actually be harmful, especially to someone who isn’t noticing the signs and symptoms of when they’re drinking too much. The National Institute uses their Rethinking Drinking website as a non-judgemental and evidence based guide with information such as what exactly is one drink, and how much is too much towards your health.

For what is considered one drink, some people may say it’s a full glass, one can, or one bottle. But the mistake of measuring with just the container is that what truly matters is actually the percentage of alcohol. For example, the average can of beer is slightly less than 4 ½ inches tall and holds 12 fluid ounces of liquid, which is clearly marked on the can. What you’ll also find on the can is the alcohol percentage. A typical can of beer contains 5% alcohol, which according to the National Institute, equals one drink. However, some beer brands are as high, or higher, than 10% alcohol. At 10% alcohol, one beer can would actually be two drinks. One drink of wine is considered to be 5 fluid ounces at 12% alcohol. Brands of liquor can contain 40% alcohol, which is why a typical shot glass only holds 1.5 fluid ounces.  Rethinking Drinking has a drink size calculator on their website with more examples of how to count exactly how many drinks are in any container for any type of alcohol.

Rethinking Drinking also provides information on the importance of how much, and how often, when considering drinking alcohol. A national survey revealed that 4 out of 10 people, who are 18 years or older, say that they always drink within a low risk limit. For adult men, the low risk limit is no more than 4 drinks per day and no more than 14 per week. For adult women, the limit is no more than 3 drinks per day and no more than 7 per week. Drinking within the low risk limit means that an average adult is less likely to be physically injured, develop health problems, and develop an addiction as a direct result of drinking alcohol in comparison to drinking at a higher risk level. Rethinking Drinking also makes it clear that the low risk limit does not mean safe. The low risk limit is still dangerous for example to anyone who is pregnant or trying to become pregnant, while taking certain types of medication, for anyone feeling symptoms of depression and other mental illnesses, and to anyone who is underage. Talk to a doctor about your current drinking habits. They can inform you of your personal health risks for drinking alcohol based on your medical and family history.

Drinking above the low risk single day and weekly limits is considered to be heavy drinking. Anyone who is a heavy drinker is more at risk for health, behavior, and social consequences. Some signs and symptoms of heavy drinking include feeling sick after drinking, memory blackouts, craving alcohol, needing more alcohol than before to feel its effects. Behavioral and social signs include drinking more than originally planned, feeling that stopping isn’t a choice, drinking despite disapproval from family and friends, and drinking despite related problems with the law or with employment. To find out more signs and symptoms, take the symptom test at the Rethinking Drinking website.

Important tips to remember about drinking alcohol are to know how much you’ve had for the day and week, know and stay within the low risk limit, be honest about your drinking with the important people in your life, don’t hide or downplay your drinking to your doctor, and be aware of when drinking alcohol starts to cause problems in any part of your life.  

Cortland Prevention Resources offers confidential early intervention programs for teens and young adults who are experiencing difficulties in their lives due to alcohol and substance use. Visit our website at www.cortlandprevention.org for more information.

Michael Sawyer

Prevention Specialist, (607) 756-8970 EXT 260

Cortland Prevention Resources a division of Family & Children’s Counseling Services

165 Main Street, Suite B, Cortland, NY 13045

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