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Responsible drinking

If you drink alcohol, doctors advise limiting how much you drink. This is called drinking in moderation, or responsible drinking.

Responsible drinking means more than just limiting yourself to a certain number of drinks. It also means not getting drunk and not letting alcohol control your life or your relationships.

Alternative names

Alcohol use disorder - responsible drinking; Drinking alcohol responsibly; Drinking in moderation

What you need to know

The tips in this article are for people who:

  • Do not have a drinking problem, now or in the past
  • Are old enough to drink legally
  • Are not pregnant

Healthy men, up to age 65, should limit themselves to:

  • No more than 4 drinks a day
  • No more than 14 drinks a week

Healthy women of all ages and healthy men over age 65 should limit themselves to:

  • No more than 3 drinks a day
  • No more than 7 drinks a week

Other habits that will help you be a responsible drinker include:

  • Never drinking alcohol and driving.
  • Having a designated driver if you are going to drink. This means riding with someone in your group who has not been drinking, or taking a taxi or bus.
  • Not drinking on an empty stomach. Have a snack or meal before you drink and while you are drinking.

If you take any medicines, including ones you bought without a prescription, check with your doctor before you drink. Alcohol can affect the way your body uses some drugs. A drug may not work correctly, or it could be dangerous or make you sick if combined with alcohol.

If alcoholism runs in your family, you may be at a higher risk of becoming an alcoholic yourself. Not drinking at all might be best for you.

Can responsible drinking improve your health?

Many people drink now and then. You may have heard about some health benefits from moderate drinking. Some of these benefits have been proven more than others. But none of them should be used as a reason for drinking.

Some of the possible benefits of moderate drinking that have been studied are:

When to call the doctor

Call your doctor if:

  • You are concerned about your own drinking or a family member's drinking.
  • You would like more information about alcohol use or support groups for problem drinking.
  • You are unable to drink less or stop drinking, even though you've tried.

References

American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. 5th ed. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association, 2013.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol use disorder: a comparison between DSM-IV and DSM-5. November 2013. http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/dsmfactsheet/dsmfact.pdf. Accessed on May 11, 2014.

O'Connor PG. Alcohol abuse and dependence. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 32.

Sherin K, Seikel S. Alcohol use disorders. In: Rakel RE, Rakel DP, eds. Textbook of Family Medicine. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 49.

Update Date: 5/11/2014

Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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