Healthy Drinking Guidelines

One of the most common New Year’s resolutions is to lose weight. People set up the new exercise equipment they got for Christmas or dust off their running shoes and get back to the gym.  Diets come and go while we try to find the easy solution to weight loss.  This time of year, it is helpful to look not just at exercise and food, but also at alcohol consumption.  The time of year from Thanksgiving to New Years is one where we often consume more alcohol than is safe for our health.  This New Year’s, it is helpful to strive for safe alcohol usage, both for our health and our waist line.

The first fact that needs to be reviewed is what constitutes a serving of alcohol.  Just like needing to be educated about servings of food in order to watch our weight, knowing what is a service of alcohol can help us avoid complications, including weight gain, dependency and abuse.  One serving is equivalent to the following:  12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of spirits (liquor, such as rum or whiskey).  In general, a woman can have one service of alcohol a day and a man can have two.  This averages out to no more than seven in a week for women and 14 for men.  We not only pay attention to this average, but also the number of drinks per sitting.  Some persons, particularly the young, like to “save up” and drink only on weekends.  Low risk drinking translates to no more than three drinks per day for women and four per day for men.  If an individual is drinking more than their limit in a week or at a sitting, their drinking is no longer safe and puts them at risk of complications.

Once “at risk” drinking is identified, we screen for dependency and abuse.  Alcohol dependence is a disease that is characterized by several factors, including a strong craving for alcohol, continued use despite harm or personal injury, the inability to limit drinking, physical injury when drinking stops and the need to increase the amount one must drink to feel the effects.  Abuse is a step further along the medical spectrum and is manifested by a pattern of drinking that results in harm to one’s health, personal relationships and ability to work.

Both dependency and abuse are treatable, when patients and health care providers work together.  The honest communication about drinking can also assist in the management of chronic disease.  For example, difficulty in controlling blood pressure is often brought on by heavy drinking.  If this correlation is identified and alcohol usage decreased, blood pressure control can improve and the usage of unnecessary medications avoided.  The control of diabetes can also be affected by the heavy use of alcohol.  By discussing your use with your physician, you can take an active role in improving your blood sugar values.

As with many things, like fatty foods, sweet desserts and salty snacks, moderation is the key to safe alcohol consumption.  Those persons interested in finding our more about this topic are referred to the following website:  This is a National Institute of Health website that contains valuable information on all facets of alcohol consumption.   Knowing what can keep you healthy is the key to helping fulfill those New Year’s resolutions.