How Many Drinks is Okay?

While alcohol is okay in moderation for most people, it's important to be aware of exactly how many drinks--and how often--is compatible with a healthy lifestyle.

Experts say that moderate drinking--for example, a glass of red wine each day--does have some health benefits. It may reduce the risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes for some people. However, for those who are already at high risk for these conditions, alcohol may not counteract the existing risk.

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For most people in good health, moderation means no more than one drink per day, or seven drinks per week, for women and for men older than age 65, and no more than two drinks per day for men younger than age 65. It's also important to be aware that a drink is measured as either 12 fluid ounces of beer, 5 fluid ounces of wine, or 1 ounce of hard liquor. If you choose to follow these guidelines, keep in mind that you should also eat a nutritious, balanced diet and exercise regularly.

Certain groups of people should always avoid drinking. These include women who are pregnant or are trying to become pregnant, people who have had a drinking problem or who have a strong family history of alcoholism, people with liver or pancreatic disease, people who have cardiac issues or who have had a stroke, and people who take certain medications that interact negatively with alcohol. It's also important never to drink any amount when you'll be behind the wheel of a car.

Heavy drinking, characterized as more than four drinks a day for men younger than age 65 and more than three drinks a day for all other healthy people, carries serious health risks. These include cancer, pancreatitis, heart failure, stroke and other cardiac problems, high blood pressure, liver disease, psychological damage, and withdrawal symptoms when you try to quit.

If you choose to drink in moderation, it's important to keep in mind that everyone is affected by differently by drinking. Factors that affect your tolerance include age, gender, race, physical condition, how much food you've consumed, how quickly you drink, prescription medicines you're taking, and family history of alcoholism.

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