Moderate drinking is defined as two drinks a day if you're a male 65 and younger, or one drink a day if you're a female or a male 66 and older. A drink is defined as 12 ounces (355 milliliters) of beer, 5 ounces (148 milliliters) of wine or 1.5 ounces (44 milliliters) of 80-proof distilled spirits.
Moderate alcohol consumption may provide some health benefits. It may:
- Reduce your risk of developing heart disease, peripheral vascular disease and intermittent claudication
- Reduce your risk of dying of a heart attack
- Possibly reduce your risk of strokes, particularly ischemic strokes
- Lower your risk of gallstones
- Possibly reduce your risk of diabetes
Though moderate alcohol use seems to have some health benefits, anything more than moderate drinking can negate any potential benefits. Be cautious because excessive alcohol consumption can lead to serious health problems, including:
- Cancer of the pancreas, mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus and liver, as well as breast cancer
- Pancreatitis, especially in people with high levels of triglycerides in their blood
- Sudden death in people with cardiovascular disease
- Heart muscle damage (alcoholic cardiomyopathy) leading to heart failure
- High blood pressure
- Cirrhosis of the liver
- Fetal alcohol syndrome in an unborn child, including impaired growth and nervous system development
- Injuries due to impaired motor skills
People with certain health conditions shouldn't drink any alcohol, as even small amounts could cause problems. Don't drink alcohol if you have:
- A history of hemorrhagic stroke
- Liver disease
- Pancreatic disease
- Evidence of precancerous changes in the esophagus, larynx, pharynx or mouth
If you have a family history of alcoholism, be particularly cautious when it comes to drinking, as you're at higher risk of alcoholism. And if you're pregnant, avoid alcohol entirely because of the health risks for your unborn baby.
Also, alcohol interacts with many common prescription and over-the-counter medications. Check with your doctor if you take:
- Diabetes medications
- Anti-seizure medications
- Beta blockers
- Pain relievers
- Sleeping pills
If you combine alcohol with aspirin, you face an increased risk of gastrointestinal bleeding. And if you use alcohol and acetaminophen, you increase your risk of liver damage. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration requires all over-the-counter pain relievers and fever reducers to carry a warning label advising those who consume three or more drinks a day to consult with their doctors before using the drug.
Above all, don't feel pressured to drink. Few medical experts, if any, advise nondrinkers to start drinking. But if you do drink and you're healthy, there's no need to stop as long as you drink responsibly and in moderation.