Here is a question we received that we answered in our regular newspaper article…
Dear Jeff and Debra,
I have a running argument with my spouse about my drinking and I want you to help settle it. I have one glass of wine every day and only one glass. Very occasionally, I will have another glass of wine when out to dinner with friends on the weekends. My spouse thinks I drink too much, but I think I’m very moderate. Do you think my drinking is too heavy?
One of the most important pieces of information we need to answer your question is missing, and it’s one of the most important reasons that people mistake “healthy” or moderate drinking for unhealthy or heavy drinking. The question is: What’s the size of a standard drink? Let’s look at the numbers supplied by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).
The following drinks are considered equal in the volume of alcohol delivered to the human body. 12 oz of regular beer = 8-9 oz of malt liquor = 5 oz of table wine = 3-4 oz of fortified wine (such as sherry or port) = 2-3 oz of cordial, liqueur, or aperitif = 1.5 oz of brandy(a single jigger or shot) = 1.5 oz shot of 80-proof spirits (hard liquor).
In most social situations, alcoholic beverages aren’t carefully measured, so unless the drink comes in a single-serving container, like a can of beer, it may be unclear how many “drinks” are being served in a single glass. If you have a large goblet of wine and call it a single glass, it may easily contain two drinks, or 10 oz of wine.
For men, at-risk or heavy drinking is defined as more than 4 drinks on any day or 14 per week. So, if you exceed 4 drinks on a given day, you’ve crossed into heavy drinking. If you exceed 14 drinks in a single week, you have also crossed into heavy drinking, though you may never have had four drinks in a single day. For women, the numbers are smaller, both because women tend to weigh less than men and because they metabolize alcohol differently. For women, heavy drinking is defined as more than 3 drinks on any day or 7 per week.
The question for Mister Moderation is: How big is your glass? If you’re only having one 5 oz glass of wine per night, you’re not a heavy drinker. But, if you use a larger goblet, your drinking may put you at risk.
Some people say that light drinking may be good for your heart, but balance that potential benefit against the risks of heavy drinking. These risks include liver disease, heart disease, sleep disorders, depression, stroke, bleeding from the stomach, sexually transmitted infections from unsafe sex, and several types of cancer. Heavy drinkers may also have problems managing diabetes, high blood pressure, and other conditions. Birth defects are a risk with heavy drinking, as is the increased chance of injuries from a variety of accidents.
Quite a rouges gallery of risk for a potential benefit that can also be delivered by grape juice.
If you’d like to delve into this discussion more deeply, the NIAAA has developed a new website called Rethinking Drinking. It doesn’t focus on alcoholism, but rather the risks of heavy drinking. It will also show you how to assess your own drinking pattern. If needed, valuable tips are provided on cutting back, or on finding help if you can’t. http://rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/
Your question lacks a critical number, as we’ve explained, but it also contains an important piece of information that deserves a special comment. If your spouse believes that your drinking is problematic, listen to her. Whether or not she’s technically correct is beside the point. If the use of alcohol is damaging an important relationship, it’s already a problem. It’s often said among recovering alcoholics, “it’s not about how much you drink or how often you drink, it’s what happens to you when you drink.”
Perhaps you shouldn’t be counting drinks or measuring fluid ounces, at all. Instead, try asking yourself: “What’s so precious about this drink and what am I willing to sacrifice to have it?”