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Many people can enjoy alcohol with few health risks. However, excessive drinking can lead to immediate and long-term health risks. You can reduce your risks by drinking in moderation and developing mindful drinking strategies. You can also seek support if you are concerned about your drinking.

Standard Drinks

Do you know how many standard drinks you are consuming?

  • A bottle of wine has five drinks.
  • A pint of beer has one and a third drinks.
  • A “fifth” (740 ml) of liquor has 17 drinks.
  • Many mixed drinks, such as martinis and rum and cokes, contain two or three standard drinks.

A drink’s alcohol content can vary by the type, brand, or style of wine, beer or liquor. Find the alcohol by volume (ABV) percentage on the bottle to know how much you are drinking.

Excessive Drinking

Excessive drinking includes binge drinking and heavy drinking.

Binge drinking is defined by The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism as drinking alcohol until the body’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level reaches 0.08% or higher. This usually occurs when consuming:

  • Five or more alcoholic drinks in the span of two hours for men
  • Four or more alcoholic drinks in the span of two hours for women
  • Your BAC may also be affected by your age, height, weight, health status, medications taken, tolerance, and what other food, liquids and drugs you’ve consumed that day.

Heavy drinking is defined as drinking more than an average of 2 drinks per day for men or 1 drink per day for women over a thirty-day period.

There has not yet been sufficient research into how binge drinking thresholds should be defined for people who are transgender, gender nonconforming or intersex.

For more information on alcohol use and a self-screening, visit the SAMHSA: Alcohol.

Health Risks

The more alcohol you have in one day and the more days you drink, the greater your risk for:

  • Accidents and injuries
  • Involvement in acts of violence
  • High blood pressure
  • Cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, breast and colon
  • Depression and other mental health disorders
  • Dementia
  • Suicide
  • Alcohol use disorder

People who engage in heavy drinking are also at risk for alcohol withdrawal if they suddenly stop drinking. The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include tremors, elevated pulse and blood pressure, insomnia, anxiety, sweating, nausea, vomiting and seizures. In some cases, alcohol withdrawal can be life-threatening and require medical care and monitoring.

Risk Groups

Any amount of drinking can be harmful for:

  • People who are younger than 21
    • Drinking before age 14 can increase the risk of developing alcohol use disorder later in life.
    • Adults who reported drinking before age 15 are three times more likely to report alcohol use disorders than those who waited until age 21 to begin drinking.
    • For more information on underage drinking, see CDC Fact Sheets on Underage Drinking
  • People who are pregnant
    • Drinking alcohol while pregnant can cause health problems for developing fetuses and babies. Prenatal exposure to alcohol can lead to the development of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, including a range of intellectual disabilities and physical problems.
    • Talk with your medical provider if you have questions or concerns about drinking while pregnant.
    • For more information, visit: CDC: Alcohol Use During Pregnancy
  • People who have hepatitis or other liver diseases
    • If you have hepatitis, drinking alcohol increases your risk for fibrosis, liver disease and liver cancer.
  • People who have alcohol use disorder
    • If you have alcohol use disorder, drinking increases your risk of alcohol-related harms.
    • Medications and behavioral health therapies can help reduce the risk of returning to alcohol use and the associated harms.

Mindful Drinking

There are various strategies you can try to avoid binge drinking:

  • Take note of how much you drink, and when and where you drink more.
  • Plan ahead. Set a goal for how many drinks you want to have and write it down.
  • Space your drinks out over time and drink non-alcoholic drinks, such as seltzer or water, in between alcoholic drinks.
  • Eat food while you are drinking.
  • Participate in social activities that do not center around drinking alcohol.
  • Be aware of what settings, experiences or people may trigger the urge to binge drink.
  • For more guidance, visit CDC: How to Start Drinking Less

Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a chronic medical condition where a person is unable to stop or control their alcohol use. On the spectrum of risky drinking, alcohol use disorder is the most severe. Signs of alcohol use disorder include:

  • A strong, irresistible urge to drink.
  • Drinking more or for a longer period of time than you had planned.
  • Multiple attempts to cut down or stop drinking.
  • Blackouts (memory loss).
  • Needing to drink greater amounts of alcohol to feel its effects.
  • Spending a lot of time either drinking or feeling hungover after drinking.
  • Repeatedly experiencing physical harms while drinking or after drinking.
  • Withdrawal symptoms when the effects of alcohol wear off, including nausea, sweating, tremors, anxiety, restlessness, hallucinations and seizures.
  • Continuing to use alcohol even when it is interfering with other aspects of life, including health, family, friends, work or school.

The severity of a person's disorder may be reflected by how many of the above symptoms they have experienced.

Treatment and Services

If you think drinking alcohol is affecting your life negatively, talk to a friend, family member, mental health professional or medical provider. To find a treatment provider near you, call or text 988 or chat at NYC 988. Call, text and chat services are available in English and Spanish, and call interpretation services are available in more than 240 languages.

Treatment can mean stopping drinking or learning how to manage and moderate your drinking. You can get the following types of treatment and services for alcohol use disorder in NYC:

  • Medications for alcohol use disorder: There are three FDA approved medications to help people stop or reduce alcohol use. Medications may be used with or without other treatment such as behavioral health interventions and counseling.
    • Naltrexone is taken as a daily pill or as a monthly injection and can help people reduce heavy drinking.
    • Acamprosate is a daily pill that can help people maintain abstinence.
    • Disulfiram is a daily pill that can help people avoid drinking by blocking the breakdown of alcohol, making alcohol use unpleasant.
  • Therapy and counseling, including cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy and motivational interviewing
  • Inpatient substance use services, including drinking cessation under the supervision of a medical professional (detox)
  • Outpatient substance use services
  • Peer support groups
  • Community-based services, such as faith-based support and community programs

Additional Resources

Treatment and Support Resources

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