For centuries, alcohol has been one of the most commonly used substances in the world. It also happens to be the third-leading cause of preventable death in the United States, contributing to about 95,000 deaths per year. That’s why for Alcohol Awareness Month, we’re exploring what it means to drink alcohol responsibly.
First and foremost, not all alcoholic drinks are equal— for example, beer contains about 5% alcohol, while hard liquor is usually about 45%. This is where the concept of a standard drink comes in: one standard drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (tequila, rum, gin, whiskey, etc.). These quantities all have a comparable amount of alcohol in them, and it’s important to realize that they don’t necessarily correspond to a typical serving size. For healthy adults, up to one drink a day for women or two drinks a day for men is considered moderate alcohol use, and this level of drinking is typically not a cause for concern.
Alcohol gets quickly absorbed into your bloodstream, causing your blood alcohol content (BAC) to rise. Below is a list of common symptoms that occur at certain BAC levels:
- 0.02: Even at this low BAC level, you may start to feel warmer, more relaxed, and have impaired judgment.
- 0.08: At this level, your balance, speech, and reaction times will likely be impaired. You may also have trouble with concentration, self-control, and short-term memory. This is also the legal limit for driving in most U.S. states, including Tennessee.
- 0.15: Walking and talking become difficult. You may begin vomiting.
- Above 0.40, your breathing may stop and you are at the risk of coma or sudden death.
If you’re curious about your BAC level based on your typical drinking habits, you can use this BAC calculator to get an approximation based on your height, weight, and how much you usually drink.
Here are a few other things to keep in mind for drinking responsibly:
- Never drink and drive— if you intend to drink, have a designated driver or alternate mode of transportation planned in advance.
- Eat before and after drinking. Having food in your stomach can slow the rate of alcohol absorption into your bloodstream.
- Don’t drink if you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant. This poses the risk of causing severe birth defects or fetal alcohol syndrome.
- If you are taking any medications at all, including over-the-counter drugs, please check with your healthcare provider before drinking. Alcohol can interact with certain drugs and lead to harmful effects.
Lastly, be on the lookout for signs of alcohol dependence in yourself and your loved ones. These include drinking more than intended, having to drink more alcohol to feel the same effects that you used to, and experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, restlessness, or shakiness when you are not drinking. It’s also a good idea to be aware of your family health history, since alcoholism appears to have some genetic basis.
There are many, many resources available for those experiencing addiction. A good place to start is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) National Helpline, which you can call at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). The Wellness & Stress Clinic is also here to connect you with resources. To schedule an appointment, please call the clinic at (901) 306-5433. As always, stay healthy and stay safe!
—The Wellness & Stress Clinic Team