How much is too much alcohol?
March 27, 2012 6:22 PM   Subscribe

I love my cocktails. Is that bad?

I love my daily cocktail(s). My ritual is to drink a cocktail or two (never more than that) before dinner. I don't drink to get drunk, although sure, I enjoy mellowing out at the end of the day. According to these criteria, I don't have an alcohol dependence problem. However, my drinking does exceed the recommended weekly drink limit. I find the chart confusing, as it implies that drinking at a particular level increases the risk of alcohol disorders, but does not in itself mean one has one. I'm a woman, and I drink closer to 14 than 7. I'm in my 50s, in good health, and I don't notice any psychological fallout, although do notice a bit of a craving come cocktail hour. Is this level of alcohol consumption particularly bad for me? Am I at risk for liver or other health problems?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
The usual advice here is to stop for a week and see what happens. If you make it through the week without really noticing, you've got your answer. If that week is living hell, you've got your answer. If you can't make it through the week without giving in and drinking, you've got your answer. Etcetera.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:43 PM on March 27, 2012 [9 favorites]

Those charts are just guidelines. Your drinking doesn't sound problematic to me unless it was affecting your work, relationships or health.

Or if it were growing worse over time or in response to stress.

Since none of those things are true, you don't fit the definition of an alcoholic or problem drinker to my knowledge.

(and it has always bugged the shit out of me that women are stuck with 1 drink per day in these things while men get 2)
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 6:54 PM on March 27, 2012

If you're in good health and it's not interfering with your life or relationships, I don't see why a couple of drinks a day would be a problem. Recommendations are just recommendations, based on a large pool of data. You're an individual--if two drinks a day works for you, then enjoy it.
posted by elizeh at 7:02 PM on March 27, 2012

It doesn't sound problematic to me, but then I thoroughly agree that a nice drink or two is a perfectly fine way to end a day.

As for the 'go a week without it' thing, have you noticed that you miss it if you're away from home for work or travel? I think that's far more telling than deliberately preventing yourself from doing something you enjoy. I love a glass of wine with dinner, but when I realised I couldn't remember the last day I hadn't had a drink I decided to skip it for a week to see if I could. That week was tough.... but I think that's because I was giving up a regular, enjoyable part of my routine. I have to travel for work and frequently spend ~3 weeks away from home, and don't miss the wine then as the routine has changed.
posted by twirlypen at 7:03 PM on March 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

I have a drink or two more days than I don't, and I talked to my therapist about it a while ago. I was worried that enjoying alcohol was a problem. My therapist asked me why I drink (because I like the way it tastes, because I like to relax a little - not because there's anything I'm trying to escape). After some discussion, she said she didn't think it sounded like a problem at all.

She suggested that I continue to pay attention to why I drink. She said that there's nothing wrong with enjoying the taste of alcohol or the relaxation that comes with a little bit of alcohol. But, needing or depending alcohol is another story entirely - if the idea of a night without a cocktail totally freaks you out, that's a problem. If you think, oh, I'd miss it, but I'd be just fine - you're probably okay.
posted by insectosaurus at 7:04 PM on March 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Your group of drinkers is mentioned at the bottom next to the star: Not included in the chart, for simplicity, are the 2 percent of U.S. adults who exceed only the weekly limits. The combined prevalence of alcohol use disorders in this group is 8 percent.

I think you're good 8% is low risk.
posted by Rubbstone at 7:04 PM on March 27, 2012

If that's bad, I don't want to be good. Alas, I can't have a cocktail every day because of my idiot stomach, but I think it probably averages out over the year--there are probably days you don't have time or opportunity for the cocktail, days you're having some kind of cold or stomach bug, days you just don't feel like it, etc.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:10 PM on March 27, 2012

Apparently your cocktails could be the equivalent of 1 to 3 standard drinks potentially placing you well beyond the recommended daily limit, too.

This could place you in the 10% who exceed both daily and weekly recommended limits, and a 50/50 chance of developing abuse and dependence. Could be a coin toss for you.

What's in your cocktails?
Loving them isn't bad so much as risky.
posted by de at 7:11 PM on March 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Is it the ritual and the pleasure in creating a great-tasting drink that you enjoy? Or the alcohol in them? Can you try making non-alcoholic cocktails to see how how much pleasure comes from the part where you make the drink with care, mindfully consume it, and thus mark the downshift part of your day?

My husband and I really love a glass of wine with dinner, or two - or sometimes a beer or a cocktail after work and before we cook dinner. Or, maybe nothing at dinner and a nice glass of bourbon and reading a good book before bed. There are lots of days where we have at least one generous drink, and sometimes two. It's the joy of making a precise cocktail, and using the proper glass, and of having something delicious that we consider a privilege and a treat for being otherwise boring and responsible adults for the larger part of the day. Sometimes we go without alcohol for a bit, and just have some sparkling water with lime or one of those fizzy lemonades or fruit juice drinks. It's the ceremony of making something enjoyable and consciously signaling that the day is winding down that we like - not the alcoholic content usually. Can you experiment with where your pleasure is coming from if you're concerned?
posted by peagood at 7:15 PM on March 27, 2012 [5 favorites]

I think those charts are useless and have nothing to do with an actual diagnosis of alcohol dependence, which has to do with alcohol actively interfering with your life. If you have ever known a real alcoholic, you would have no question!

At the same time, as a strict health issue, 14 drinks a week probably isnt the greatest thing. Increases cancer risk, is empty calories, and may interfere with sleep. But it is up to you to weigh these risks.
posted by yarly at 7:19 PM on March 27, 2012

Also think about whether you find yourself saying no to other activities if that would mean skipping your daily cocktail time. Not just interfering with work, because obviously having a drink or two after work won't harm your your work, but think about whether the cocktails affect other parts of your life.
posted by at 7:21 PM on March 27, 2012

My husband and I drink, almost every day. Our friends drink. My 78-year-old mother has a cocktail every day, usually around 3:00 because she goes to bed so early. It's not a problem for any of us. We've never had a DUI. We've never lost a job because of our drinking. We don't plan our lives around alcohol. But we enjoy it, and sometimes we socialize around it. None of us consider our drinking as a problem, although I do sometimes wonder about the health risks. Life is short, sweetie. I don't think you have a problem.
posted by raisingsand at 7:22 PM on March 27, 2012 [6 favorites]

Are your cocktails actually one unit of alcohol each? That's about 8 oz of beer, 1 oz of liquor, or 4-5 oz of wine. If you're drinking 14 units of alcohol per week, I'd say you're just fine. If each of your cocktails has multiple shots, however, or if you're using the larger glasses that many people use for beer and wine, you're probably edging into territory where your drinking might harm your health long-term, and you might want to think about cutting back to closer to 14 units of alcohol per week.
posted by decathecting at 7:26 PM on March 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

At this point I think you probably have a bit of a physical dependence, so stopping for a week might be rough. I used to have the same amount you do, plus go on a good drunk on the weekend. When I stopped I had strong physical cravings, but I absolutely did stop and never looked back and now have two drinks once a week or so with a very rare binge.

Anyway, what I'm saying is that if you really do crave it that doesn't mean you're psychologically dependent on it and have a capital-P Problem. It does mean that your body is used to having it daily. If it's causing trouble in your life you should not do it. If it is not causing trouble, then it's not. Many people are dependent on a daily coffee too. Life goes on.

As far as physical effects on your liver etc. I would talk to your doctor.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:39 PM on March 27, 2012

If you're concerned about your liver levels, talk to a gastro. A simple blood test can tell you if you're in any trouble. A normal liver can generally handle two drinks a day most days. Of course, if it's compromised in some other way, it might need to work harder. It doesn't sound like your relationship with alcohol is problematic. As nebulawindphone says, if you're concerned about dependency, quit for a week. If you find yourself struggling, then you have your answer.
posted by Gilbert at 9:22 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

The only thing that would concern me would be the size of the cocktail(s). I love a cosmopolitan but that is 2 or even 3 "drinks" in size. So two of these a day would be much more like 5 or 6 beers a day and that would be something to be concerned about.
posted by saradarlin at 9:44 PM on March 27, 2012

So according to the current science, apparently both biological and environmental factors contribute to a risk of alcoholism. And apparently the most significant environmental factor is... consumption of alcohol.

Not saying what you are doing with the cocktails is "bad," it's just something to keep in mind.
posted by cairdeas at 11:04 PM on March 27, 2012

I think based on the alcohol chart almost everyone I know who drinks would be considered an alcoholic. You sound fine.
posted by jitterbug perfume at 3:49 AM on March 28, 2012

>>Am I at risk for liver or other health problems?

What are your other risk factors? How old are you? How much do you weigh? How much alcohol is in these drinks (a cocktail is often more than one shot of liquor)?

You probably need to discuss this aspect with your physician.
posted by J. Wilson at 4:29 AM on March 28, 2012

Another thing to consider with cocktails is how many additional calories you're consuming in addition to the alcohol.
posted by tommasz at 5:26 AM on March 28, 2012

Agree about checking the amounts, especially if you are drinking hard liquor. My favorite restaurant makes a martini which is probably four alcohol units.

I think it varies by person. When I stopped drinking on a daily basis, I was amazed to realize how much seemingly moderate amounts of alcohol had been affecting my sleep. After a couple of glasses of wine, I was sleeping the same amount or more, but it wasn't as deep or refreshing. I also don't feel as active or alert the next day. I had no clue any of that was the case when it was a daily thing; that was my "normal."
posted by BibiRose at 5:29 AM on March 28, 2012

The 'quit for a week and if it is hard you have a problem' advice always goes clunk a little bit to me. I mean, it is good advice, in the sense that no bad can come from not having a cocktail for a week, but I really think the trigger there is too finely set for any real utility. If you have two cocktails every night, and it is a ritual built into the fabric of your life of course you will notice it and have it be hard to change for a week. It would be hard if it was cups of chamomile tea, or Twinkies, or or or or. The only real information you could gain would be if it was IMPOSSIBLY, CALAMITOUSLY hard, and then yeah you know you have a real problem. If it is just annoyingly hard, what does that prove? I read every night before bed, and it would be really hard for me to stop for a week, so does that mean I should stop forever?

I think a good yardstick for 'do I have a drinking problem?' is: is your drinking a problem? In the clear, cold light of day would you be better off without it? Maybe just asking that question indicates that on some level it is, but maybe not.

Anyway, for me, two cocktails a day (and I guess I am assuming these are big modern cocktails) seems like a fair amount but not a LOT. In the absence of other indicators, and if you feel fine, I say you are fine.
posted by dirtdirt at 6:58 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am not a doctor, but re: the health problems part of your question--recent research has suggested that heavy alcohol consumption by women may increase the risk of health problems including breast cancer.
posted by anonnymoose at 7:03 AM on March 28, 2012

My dad was an alcoholic and I am really really sensitive about this issue and I think you sound fine. I go through phases of worrying about my own (extremely moderate) drinking, mainly because growing up in a household where one person not-so-secretly drank and everyone else pretended alcohol didn't exist, I have no concept of what "normal" is. But then I realize: I never get drunk, and don't want to get drunk, and to someone with alcoholism the whole point is to get drunk. So I'm pretty sure I'm fine, and it sounds like you are, too.
posted by something something at 7:08 AM on March 28, 2012

dirtdirt — Right, it's totally possible to be like "this sucks, I miss my tasty cocktails, I want a drink" and still not have A Drinking Problem. Where it really gets telling, I think, is on the opposite end. If you can't make it a week without drinking, then that's pretty much airtight evidence that you do have a problem.
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:11 PM on March 28, 2012

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