How Much Wine Is Too Much?

A "standard" drink might be smaller than you think.

How Much Wine Is Too Much?

Reaching for a glass of wine at the end of the day? You’re not alone. Americans drank 966 million gallons of wine in 2018, according to Wine Institute, an industry advocacy group.

You’ve no doubt also seen headlines about the supposed health benefits of wine. If a little might be good, more is better, right? Unfortunately, that’s not the case. As a physician, I can tell you that too much wine can have disastrous health consequences.

The challenge is understanding the difference between okay and over the top. Here's what you should know about wine consumption before pouring your next glass.

What’s the right amount?
"Moderate" drinking is defined as up to one drink a day for women and up to two for men, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Men who consume 15 or more drinks per week are considered heavy drinkers. Women with the same label sip eight or more weekly drinks.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as consuming five or more drinks within about two hours on a single occasion, if you’re a man. For women, it’s four or more drinks during the same time period. 

So, what's a “drink”?
While one person’s “standard” drink may be another’s shot, a single drink in the U.S. contains 14 grams of alcohol. That's equivalent to a 12-ounce beer, 5-ounce glass of table wine, or 1.5-ounce shot of 80-proof liquor, like vodka, tequila, or gin.

If you typically sip malt liquor—about 7 percent alcohol—a standard drink is between 8 and 9 ounces. Sherry and port wine drinkers reach a standard drink with just 3 or 4 ounces of the stuff; cordial and liqueur drinkers get there after 2 or 3 ounces.

What are the risks of heavy drinking?
For one, harmful alcohol use, including drinking to excess, is responsible for more than 3 million global deaths each year—that's 1 in every 20. You already know the risks of driving while intoxicated, but it can be tough to gauge your impairment before getting behind the wheel. In one 2014 study published in Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, scientists simulated driving after giving participants alcohol. They found the higher the blood alcohol level, the better the participants thought they drove.

Additional consequences of excessive alcohol ingestion may include:

  • Drowning
  • Alcohol dependency
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Heart disease and stroke
  • Liver disease
  • Pancreatitis
  • Some cancers, including breast cancer, mouth cancer, and colorectal cancer

What are the potential benefits of wine?
You may have heard or read that wine isn’t all bad. Some studies suggest that a moderate amount can, in fact, be beneficial. So, how much do you need to drink to reap the potential benefits?

While no data has declared a “safe” amount, research suggests that people who have up to one serving of wine a day tend to have lower rates of heart disease and stroke, compared to those who drink too much wine or abstain altogether. 

More recent research suggests that the risks of drinking, even in moderation, may outweigh the apparent heart benefits. What’s more, experts aren’t certain the heart benefits are real: People who have an occasional glass of wine tend to be healthier in other ways.

Bottom line: If you drink, stick to recommended limits. And if you don’t drink, don’t start for the possible health perks.

How much wine is too much?
As an ER doctor, I know alcohol is one of the most dangerous drugs. Not only does consuming too much have severe risks, but its withdrawal symptoms can be equally life-threatening.

Signs of alcohol dependence include:

  • Drinking more than you intend
  • Needing to drink more and more to feel an effect
  • Losing jobs, friends, or family or getting arrested due to alcohol
  • Being unable to stop drinking or to cut back consumption despite trying  

If you or someone you love is dependent on alcohol, it’s crucial that you not try to detox alone. Instead, go to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, where you can get immediate help or find local resources.

Sources:

Wine Institute. “US Wine Consumption.” 2021. Accessed April 15, 2021.
United States Department of Health and Human Services. “Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025.” December 2020. Accessed April 15, 2021.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Binge Drinking.” 2021. Accessed April 15, 2021.
World Health Organization. “Alcohol: Key Facts.” 2021. Accessed April 15, 2021.
N Van Dyke & MT Fillmore. “Alcohol effects on simulated driving performance and self-perceptions of impairment in DUI offenders.” Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology. December 2014. 22(6), 484–493.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol’s Effects on the Body.” 2021. Accessed April 15, 2021.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder.” 2021. Accessed April 15, 2021.

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