The Basics: Overview
If you don’t drink alcohol, there’s no reason to start. If you choose to drink, it’s important to have only a moderate (limited) amount. And some people should not drink at all, like women who are pregnant or might be pregnant — and people with certain health conditions.
What is a moderate amount of alcohol?
A moderate amount of alcohol means:
- 1 drink or less in a day for women
- 2 drinks or less in a day for men
Keep in mind that drinking less is always healthier than drinking more. Even moderate drinking can have health risks.
What is 1 drink equal to?
Different types of beer, wine, and liquor have different amounts of alcohol. In general, 1 drink is equal to a:
- Bottle of regular beer (12 ounces)
- Glass of wine (5 ounces)
- Shot of liquor or spirits, like gin, rum, or vodka (1.5 ounces)
Different drinks have different amounts of calories, too. These calories add up — and getting more calories than you need can make it harder to stay at a healthy weight. For example, a 12-ounce bottle of beer has about 150 calories. Find out how many calories are in a drink.
The Basics: Health Risks
Drinking more than a moderate amount of alcohol can put you at risk for personal and health problems, including alcohol use disorder.
What are the risks of drinking too much?
Drinking too much increases your risk for many health problems, including serious conditions that can lead to death. Some examples of alcohol-related health problems include:
- Liver disease
- Heart disease
- Stomach bleeding
- Some types of cancer
Even moderate drinking may raise your risk for some types of heart disease and cancer. For some types of cancer, the risk increases even at low levels of drinking (for example, less than 1 drink in a day).
Drinking too much can also put you at risk for:
- Alcohol use disorder
- Injuries and violence
- Unintended pregnancy or STDs (sexually transmitted diseases)
What is alcohol use disorder?
If drinking causes serious problems in your life, you may have alcohol use disorder. Alcoholism is a type of alcohol use disorder.
Drinking may be a problem for you if any of these things are true:
- You can’t control how much you drink
- You need to drink more and more to feel the effects
- You feel anxious, irritable, or stressed when you aren’t drinking
- You find yourself thinking a lot about when you can drink next
Use this tool to see if you have signs of alcohol use disorder. If you have a drinking problem, it’s important to see a doctor right away.
The Basics: Don't Drink If...
Who should not drink at all?
Don’t drink at all if you:
- Are pregnant or might be pregnant
- Are under age 21
- Take certain over-the-counter or prescription medicines — check the medicine label or talk with a doctor or pharmacist
- Are recovering from alcohol use disorder or are unable to control how much you drink
- Have a health condition that can be made worse by drinking (like liver disease or HIV)
It’s also very important not to drink if you plan to drive a car or use a machine (like a lawn mower, chainsaw, or construction equipment).
Take Action: Set Limits
Here are some strategies to help you cut back or stop drinking.
Keep track of your drinking.
Keeping track of each drink may help you drink less overall. These drinking tracker cards can help.
Decide how many days a week you'll drink and how much you'll drink on those days. For men, don’t drink more than 2 drinks a day. For women, don’t drink more than 1 drink a day. It’s also a good idea to have some days when you don’t drink at all.
Remember, drinking less is better for your health than drinking more.
Take Action: Make a Plan
Learn new skills to help you change your drinking habits.
Planning ahead can help you manage situations when you might be tempted to drink too much. Think ahead about how to say “no” if someone offers you a drink.
Find healthy ways to manage stress.
If you have a bad day or are feeling angry, don’t reach for a drink. Try taking a walk, calling a friend, or seeing a movie. Get tips to help you manage stress.
Avoid places where people drink a lot.
Stay away from bars and other places that may make you want to drink.
Limit the amount of alcohol you keep at home.
If you don’t keep a lot of alcohol around, you won’t be tempted to go over the drinking limit you set for yourself when you’re at home.
Make a list of reasons not to drink.
Make a list of reasons to drink less or quit. Keep this list in your wallet, on your fridge, or in an app on your phone. Look at it when you have an urge to drink.
If you want to lose weight or save money, use these calculators to:
Take Action: Get Help
If you think you might have a drinking problem, ask for help.
Ask your friends and loved ones to support you. Talk to a doctor or nurse if you are having a hard time cutting down on your drinking.
There are effective treatments for alcohol use disorder. Doctors can treat it with talk therapy, medicine, or both. Learn about different treatments for alcohol use disorder.
If one type of treatment doesn’t work for you, you can try another. Don’t give up!
- Find a doctor or treatment program near you
- Call 1-800-662-HELP (1-800-662-4357) for information about treatment
- Use this tool to explore treatment options
What about cost?
Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance plans must cover alcohol misuse screening and counseling. Depending on your insurance plan, you may be able to get these services at no cost to you. Check with your insurance company to find out more.
Medicare may also cover alcohol-related services at no cost. If you have Medicare, learn about Medicare coverage for alcohol misuse screening and counseling.
If you don't have insurance, you may still be able to get free or low-cost help for alcohol misuse. Find a health center near you and ask about alcohol misuse screening and counseling.
To learn more, check out these resources:
- Free preventive care for adults covered by the Affordable Care Act
- How the Affordable Care Act protects you
- Understanding your health insurance and how to use it [PDF - 698 KB]
Are you worried about a loved one’s drinking?
Use these tips to talk with someone about cutting back or quitting drinking.
Content last updated December 2, 2021
This information on drinking in moderation was adapted from materials from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion