May 4, 2018

Here are some guidelines to determine how much alcohol is too much.


In the warmer months of the year, when the weather is beautiful and vacation is on our minds, alcohol seems to flow more readily as we socialize, relax, celebrate and unwind with family and friends. It is true that some studies suggest there are mild health benefits associated with the controlled use of moderate amounts of alcohol. But how do we know when our drinking, or the drinking of those we love, is getting out of hand? Here is some information to help determine how much alcohol is too much.

“Although the majority of people who drink do not have a problem with drinking too much, when alcohol consumption leads to social, legal, relationship, occupational, financial or health problems, it is cause for concern,” said Jim Kendall, LCSW, manager of the Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Employee Assistance Program. “Dysfunction in any of these areas suggests that it is time to re-evaluate our alcohol intake.”

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, moderate alcohol consumption is defined as having up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men. This definition refers to the amount consumed on any single day and is not intended as an average over several days.

A standard drink is equal to:

  • 12 ounces of beer;
  • 5 ounces of wine;
  • 1.5 ounces of liquor such as gin, rum, vodka or whiskey.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, heavy drinking for men is typically defined as consuming 15 drinks or more per week. For women, heavy drinking is typically defined as consuming 8 drinks or more per week.

Signs that there’s a problem

The most common signs that there is a problem with alcohol include:

  • Failure to fulfill major responsibilities at work, school or home.
  • Drinking in dangerous situations, such as drinking while driving or operating machinery.
  • Legal problems related to alcohol, such as being arrested for drinking while driving or for physically hurting someone while drunk.
  • Continued drinking despite ongoing relationship problems that are caused or worsened by drinking.
  • A strong craving for alcohol.
  • Continued use despite repeated physical, psychological or interpersonal problems.
  • The inability to limit drinking.

If you are concerned that either you or someone you care about might have a drinking problem, consult your personal healthcare provider. Other resources include the National Drug and Alcohol Treatment Referral Routing Service available at 1-800-662-HELP. This service can provide you with information about treatment programs in your local community.

Stacey Kendrick, MS, is a health educator with more than 20 years of experience in wellness and population health. She spent much of her career at Vanderbilt’s Faculty/Staff Wellness Program and currently works in Strategic Marketing at Vanderbilt. She is mother to two adult daughters. In her free time, she teaches healthy cooking classes, runs, gardens and enjoys backyard bonfires.