How Much Alcohol Is Safe to Drink?

How much alcohol can I safely drink?

Verywell / Cindy Chung 

Many adults enjoy drinking a few alcoholic beverages, but how can you tell if your alcohol consumption is unsafe? If you're questioning whether your drinking habits are cause for concern, you should know that the threshold for harmful drinking is much lower than you might imagine.

Millions of people drink beer, wine, and spirits without developing a drinking habit that causes problems. However, your alcohol consumption could put your health and well-being in jeopardy even if you don't develop an alcohol use disorder.

How much alcohol can you drink at a safe level and still be considered a low-risk drinker? How much alcohol consumption would place you in the high-risk group?

According to extensive research by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), fewer than 2% of people who consume alcohol within the established guidelines ever develop alcohol use disorders.

Here's what you need to know about the guidelines for alcohol consumption if you are trying to assess your risk.

Men: 4 or Fewer Drinks Per Day

For men, low-risk alcohol consumption is considered drinking four or fewer standard drinks on any single day and less than 14 drinks during a given week. According to the NIAAA, both the daily and weekly guidelines must be met for a person to remain low risk. 

In other words, if you are a man who only drinks four standard drinks per day, but you drink four every day, you are drinking 28 drinks per week—which is twice the recommended level for low-risk alcohol consumption.

Drinking four drinks per day four times a week would also exceed the guidelines.

Women: 3 or Fewer Drinks Per Day

Research has shown that women develop alcohol use disorders at lower levels of consumption compared to men. Therefore, the guidelines for low-risk drinking are lower for women. The NIAAA guidelines are three or fewer standard drinks a day and no more than seven drinks per week for women.

Again, both the daily and weekly standards must be met to remain in the low-risk category. If you're a woman who only has two drinks a day but you have two drinks every day, that's 14 drinks per week—twice the recommended amount for low-risk consumption.

It's important to keep in mind that the guidelines vary from one country to another.

Heart Health and Longevity

The low-risk category of drinking may not be the best level for your heart health. One international study that looked specifically at the risk of cardiovascular disease found that consuming an even lower amount of alcohol may help you live longer.

The study involved nearly 600,000 adults from all over the world who did not have a history of cardiovascular disease. The participants drank between 0 and 350 grams of alcohol each week (to put this figure in perspective, the recommendation for men in the U.S. is equivalent to 196 grams—about six glasses of wine).

The study found that drinking 100 grams or less of alcohol per week had the lowest risk for mortality.

'Low-Risk' Does Not Mean 'No Risk'

There are some situations in which no level of drinking can be considered low-risk. Depending on your age, health, and other circumstances, you may need to drink even less—or not drink at all.

Here are some circumstances in which you may need to stop drinking altogether:

  • You are taking certain medications that negatively interact with alcohol.
  • You are pregnant or trying to become pregnant.
  • You have certain medical conditions, including cirrhosis of the liver, hepatitis C, and chronic pain, as well as some heart conditions and mental disorders.
  • You plan to drive or operate heavy equipment.

A Personalized Approach

These guidelines are for the "average" person. Thresholds vary greatly and there are many factors involved. It's best to take a personalized approach to find a safe level of drinking.

Harvard Men's Health Watch suggests that you speak to your doctor to determine how much alcohol is safe for you to consume. Your doctor can take your entire medical history into account to make an accurate recommendation.

The amount of alcohol you consume might need to decrease as you age or if you need to keep certain health conditions, like your blood pressure, under control. It's important to keep in mind that what is considered safe and healthy for you might not be the same as it is for someone else.

A Word From Verywell

It's a good idea to gauge your current drinking level and assess whether you are regularly exceeding the guidelines for low-risk drinking. You might consider cutting down your alcohol consumption or quitting entirely. If you feel like your relationship with alcohol is interfering with your overall health and well-being, don't hesitate to seek help.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area. 

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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Article Sources
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  1. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. "Rethinking Drinking: Alcohol and Your Health." February 2009.

  2. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism What's "low-risk" drinking for AUD? National Institutes of Health U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

  3. Wood AN, et al. Risk Thresholds for Alcohol Consumption: Combined Analysis of Individual-Participant Data for 599 912 Current Drinkers in 83 Prospective Studies. The Lancet. 2018;391(10129):1513–1523. April 14, 2018 doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(18)30134-X

  4. Harvard Men's Health. How Much Alcohol Is Too Much? Harvard Medical School. 2014.