How Much Wine Is Too Much?


Reaching for a glass of wine at the end of the day? You’re not alone. According to the Wine Institute, Americans drank 895 million gallons of wine in 2014. You’ve no doubt also seen headlines about the health benefits of wine. So, if a little is good, more is better, right? Unfortunately, that’s not the case. As a physician, I can tell you that when it comes to wine, there’s definitely a sweet spot — a little bit is healthy, but too much can have disastrous health consequences.

The challenge is knowing the difference. Here, answers to five common questions:

  1. What’s the right amount? According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Dietary Guidelines for Americans, “moderate drinking” is defined as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. Heavy drinking for men is usually considered 15 or more drinks per week; for women, eight or more drinks. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as consuming five or more drinks, within about two hours, on a single occasion. For women it’s four or more drinks.
  2. How would you define “drink”? While one person’s “standard” drink may be another’s shot-glass, in the U.S. a single drink is defined as 14 grams of alcohol, or the equivalent of 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor.
  3. What are the risks of heavy consumption? For one, excessive alcohol consumption is the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. You already know the risks of driving while intoxicated — but one of the most dangerous aspects of that is one’s inability to gauge their impairment. In one study that simulated driving after giving participants alcohol, the higher the blood alcohol level, the better the participants thought they were driving. Additional consequences of excessive alcohol ingestion include higher rates of drowning, lower quality of life, worse perceptions of one’s own health, and higher rates of death from heart disease, liver disease, pancreatitis, and even some cancers, including breast cancer.
  4. What are the benefits of wine? I’m sure by now that you’ve heard or read that wine isn’t all bad for you — studies have shown that a moderate amount can, in fact, be beneficial. So how much do you need to drink to gain the potential benefits? While no data has declared the “safe” amount, research suggests that people who drink one drink a day (remember, the definitions of “moderate drinking” are lower than most people think), tend to live longer and have lower rates of heart disease and stroke.
  5. What about the flip side — signs that you’re drinking too much? Signs of alcohol dependence include drinking more than you intend, needing to drink more and more to feel an effect, and losing jobs/friends/family/getting arrested due to alcohol. As an ER doctor, I know that alcohol is one of the most dangerous drugs — not only does consuming too much have severe risks, but its withdrawal can be equally life-threatening. So if you or someone you love is dependent on alcohol, it’s crucial that you not try to detox alone. Instead, go to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, where you can get immediate help or find local resources.

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