Although there are potential benefits to moderate drinking, there are also risks. Benefits are cancelled out by anything more than moderate alcohol consumption.

For women (and men over age 65) moderate drinking is defined as one drink per day. For men under age 65, moderate drinking is defined as two drinks per day. One drink consists of 12 oz. of beer, 5 oz. of wine, or 1.5 oz. of 80 proof distilled spirits.

The verified benefits of moderate drinking apply mainly to men over the age of 45, and to women over 55 years of age. These benefits include a reduced risk for heart disease, fatal heart attack, and gallstones. Moderate drinking may also reduce the risk for certain types of stroke and diabetes.

Excessive drinking carries substantial health risks. Alcohol can damage the brain, heart, pancreas, liver, and can increase the risk for certain types of cancer. Alcohol can also interact with many prescription and over-the-counter medications. Combining alcohol with certain medications can cause serious health problems, even death. Make sure to check with a qualified health care provider to determine if medications are affected by alcohol.

Some people should not drink alcohol at all, including the following:

  • Patients with a history of stroke, liver disease, pancreatic disease, or evidence of pre-cancer of the mouth or throat region
  • People under age 21
  • People who are planning to drive, or use tools or machinery
  • Women who are pregnant or may become pregnant

People with a family history of alcohol abuse or alcoholism are at increased risk for this disease and should be very cautious about drinking.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 14 Feb 2007

Last Modified: 14 Sep 2015