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Home Q & A's

Questions & answers

  • Why is being able to "hold your liquor" a concern?

    For some people who drink, it takes quite a few drinks to “get a buzz” or feel relaxed, and they may be less likely to show signs of intoxication compared to others. This is sometimes called being able to “hold your liquor” or “drink someone under the table.” Often these individuals are unaware that their body’s lower response to the intoxicating effects of alcohol isn’t protection from alcohol problems but instead is a reason for caution.

    These individuals tend to drink more, socialize with people who drink a lot, and develop a tolerance to alcohol (i.e., it takes more and more alcohol to feel or act intoxicated). As a result, they have an increased risk for developing alcohol use disorder (AUD). Someone who misuses alcohol, especially over the long-term, can experience permanent liver, heart, or brain damage. And all people who drink, regardless of the amount, need to be aware that critical decision-making abilities and driving-related skills are already diminished long before a person shows physical signs of intoxication.

  • Why do women face higher risks for alcohol-related consequences?

    A growing body of evidence indicates that women who drink are at increased susceptibility to short- and long-term alcohol-related consequences, including liver disease, cardiovascular disease, neurotoxicity, and alcohol-related memory blackouts, compared to men. One reason for this is that alcohol resides predominantly in body water, and pound for pound, women have less water in their bodies than men. This means that after a woman and a man of the same weight drink the same amount of alcohol, the woman’s BAC will tend to be higher, putting her at greater risk for harm.

    Other biological differences may contribute as well. While alcohol misuse by anyone presents a serious public health concern, women face alcohol-related problems sooner and at lower drinking levels than men. Women who drink are also at greater risk for developing breast cancer than women who do not consume alcohol.

  • What medications interact harmfully with alcohol?

    Some medicines that you might never have suspected can react with alcohol, including many that can be purchased "over the counter" without a prescription. Even some herbal remedies don't mix well with alcohol. The pamphlet Harmful Interactions: Mixing Alcohol with Medicines lists medications that can cause harm when taken with alcohol and describes the effects that can result. It does not include all possible medicines that may interact with alcohol, however. Protect yourself by avoiding alcohol if you are taking a medication and don't know its effect, or talk to your pharmacist or other health care professional.

  • Can I do anything to protect my liver from the effects of too much alcohol?

    There is no scientific evidence that anything will prevent liver damage from too much alcohol. Liver damage from alcohol misuse happens in stages. Some relatively mild damage may happen after a single binge drinking episode, but this reverses itself if the heavy alcohol use stops. If heavy drinking continues, however, liver damage can progress to several more advanced stages, including cirrhosis, and reversal of liver damage becomes much more difficult, if not impossible. In advanced stages, the only treatment is liver transplant. The best way to avoid damaging your liver is by not misusing alcohol, if you choose to drink. If you already have liver damage, stopping drinking could prevent progression to more serious liver disease. Even the standard recommended dose of acetaminophen can increase the risk of liver damage, particularly among people who drink heavily. For more information, see NIAAA’s information about alcohol’s effects on the body and this advisory on acetaminophen and liver injury.

  • I am considering cutting down or quitting drinking. How do I begin?

    The first step, of course, is to decide whether cutting down or quitting is best for you. See these considerations and discuss different options with a healthcare professional, a friend, or someone else you trust.

    Thinking about cutting back? Here are some tips to try, small changes that can make a big difference. Choose two or three to try in the next week or two. It may help to have reminders to reinforce your decision to make a change, such as automated smartphone alerts that you send yourself.

    Thinking about quitting? One size doesn’t fit all, and it’s important to find options that appeal to you. Start by visiting the support for quitting page.

    Changing unhealthy behavior such as smoking, overeating, or drinking too much can take a lot of effort, and you may not succeed with the first try. Setbacks are common, but you learn more each time. Each try brings you closer to your goal. Whatever course you choose, give it a fair trial.

  • I’ve decided to cut back on my drinking and I may even quit. How can I get people to stop pressuring me to drink?

    Anyone who is cutting back or quitting drinking is likely to be offered a drink at times when it’s unwanted. Rethinking Drinking has a activity or “mini-guide” to help you build resistance skills and stay in control. You’ll learn how to recognize the types of pressure to drink, avoid pressure, and cope with situations you can’t avoid.

    As an example, here’s one tip: Have a polite, convincing "no, thanks" ready. The faster you can say no to drink offers, the less likely you are to give in. If you hesitate, it allows you time to think of excuses to go along. See the module for more insights and suggestions, including a worksheet where you can script your ‘no’ to practice for a situation in which the pressure persists.

    If you worry about how others will react or view you if you make a change, challenge these thoughts by remembering that it's your life and your choice, and that your decision should be respected.

  • What treatments are available for someone with an alcohol problem?

    People commonly think of 12-step programs or 28-day inpatient rehabilitation as the only options for treating alcohol problems. Other choices are available, however. It’s a good idea to start by talking with a healthcare provider to put together an individualized treatment plan. For more information, see Professional Support.

Is your "lite" beer light in alcohol?

Not necessarily. Although they have fewer calories, many light beers have almost as much alcohol as regular beer—about 85% as much, or 4.2% versus 5.0% alcohol by volume, on average.

Check the alcohol content of your beverage. Malt beverages are not required to list their alcohol content on the labels, so you may need to visit the bottler's Web site.

See What's a standard drink?

How many "drinks" are in a bottle of wine?

A typical 25-ounce (750 ml) bottle of table wine holds about 5 "standard" drinks, each containing about 5 ounces. This serving size of wine contains about the same amount of alcohol as a 12-ounce regular beer or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits.

Get to know what 5 ounces looks like by measuring it out at home. That way you can estimate how many standard drinks you're being served in a restaurant or bar that uses large glasses and generous serving sizes.

See What's a standard drink?

Mixing alcohol with certain medications can cause nausea, headaches, drowsiness, fainting, a loss of coordination, internal bleeding, heart problems, and difficulties in breathing. Alcohol can also make a medication less effective. For more information, see Harmful Interactions: Mixing Alcohol with Medicines.

Examples of medical conditions for which it's safest to avoid drinking include liver disease (such as from hepatitis C), bipolar disorder, abnormal heart rhythm, and chronic pain.

Among the dangers of underage drinking:

Even moderate amounts of alcohol can significantly impair driving performance and your ability to operate other machinery, whether or not you feel the effects of alcohol.

Heavy drinking during pregnancy can cause brain damage and other serious problems in the baby. Because it is not yet known whether any amount of alcohol is safe for a developing baby, women who are pregnant or may become pregnant should not drink.

Highest risk

About 50% of people who drink in this group have alcohol use disorder.

Increased risk

This "increased risk" category contains three different drinking pattern groups. Overall, nearly 20% of people who drink in this category have alcohol use disorder.

Low-risk drinking

Only about 2% of drinkers in this group has alcohol use disorder.

A U.S. standard drink contains about 0.6 fluid ounces or 14 grams of pure alcohol (also known as an alcoholic drink-equivalent). That's the amount in 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of table wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.

Low risk levels: Men: <= 4 drinks/day, <= 14 drinks/week. Women: <= 3 drinks/day, <= 7 drinks/week

Distilled spirits include vodka, whiskey, gin, rum, and tequila.

Light to moderate drinking

Heavy or at-risk drinking

Low-risk drinking

Men: No more than 4 drinks on any day and no more than 14 per week

Women: No more than 3 drinks on any day and no more than 7 per week

People with a parent, grandparent, or other close relative with alcoholism have a higher risk for becoming dependent on alcohol. For many, it may be difficult to maintain low-risk drinking habits.

Pace yourself: It's best to have no more than one standard drink per hour, with nonalcoholic "drink spacers" between alcohol beverages. On any day, stay within low-risk levels of no more than 4 drinks for men or 3 for women. Note that it takes about 2 hours for the adult body to completely break down a single drink. Do not drive after drinking.

For comparison, regular beer is 5% alcohol by volume (alc/vol), table wine is about 12% alc/vol, and straight 80-proof distilled spirits is 40% alc/vol.

The percent alcohol by volume (alc/vol) for distilled spirits is listed on bottle labels and may be found online as well. It is half the "proof," such that 80-proof spirits is 40% alc/vol.

Convert proof to alc/vol

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Convert to fluid ounces

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