Alcohol is consumed by people in many cultures around the world. Drinking, like eating or any other social activity, has guidelines to help people get more enjoyment out of the activity and to avoid harm. Snarfing down half a chocolate cake at a party would not be considered responsible eating nor even polite in most cultures. The same goes for drinking. Responsible drinking may sometimes mean not drinking at all, like when you are sick, taking certain medications, or are the designated driver.
Let’s define what irresponsible drinking (misusing alcohol) is according to experts. Risky alcohol use (alcohol misuse) means drinking more than the recommended daily or weekly amounts resulting in increased risk for health consequences. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture define “risky use” as consuming more than 4 drinks on any day or 14 drinks per week for men, or more than 3 drinks on any day or 7 drinks per week for women. For men, heavy drinking is typically defined as consuming 15 drinks or more per week. For women, heavy drinking is typically defined as consuming 8 drinks or more per week (Sorry, ladies, our livers are a fair bit smaller than men’s so we are unable to metabolize the amount of alcohol they can).
Alcohol abuse (as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition) is drinking that leads a person to recurrently fail in home, work, or school responsibilities; using alcohol in physically hazardous situations (such as while operating heavy machinery); or having alcohol-related legal or social problems (like getting a DUI). Alcohol dependence (alcoholism) as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition includes physical cravings and withdrawal symptoms, frequent consumption of alcohol in larger amounts than intended over longer periods, and a need for markedly increased amounts of alcohol to achieve intoxication.
An estimated 30% of the U.S. population misuses alcohol. Alcohol misuse is the third leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States. It plays a role in a wide range of health conditions including high blood pressure, gastritis, liver disease and cirrhosis, pancreatitis, certain types of cancer (like breast and esophageal), cognitive impairment, anxiety, and depression.
Helpful hints for drinking responsibly:
- Know your limit and plan ahead.
- Eat food before and while you drink.
- Sip your drink instead of drinking it quickly.
- Beware of unfamiliar drinks. Never accept a drink from someone you don’t know.
- Appoint a designated driver. Don’t drink and drive!
- Respect the rights of individuals who do not wish to drink.
- Keep track of how many drinks you are consuming, and stop at the limits listed above
- Drink for quality instead of quantity.
- Avoid drinking games; you end up drinking more than the recommended amount.
- Be careful what you combine since many medications and alcohol do not mix well. Be sure to read all warning labels.
According to official guidelines, people who should NOT drink alcoholic beverages at all include: children and adolescents; those of any age who cannot limit their drinking to a low level; women who are pregnant; those who plan to drive, operate machinery, or take part in other activities that require attention, skill, or coordination; those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications that can interact with alcohol; those with certain medical conditions (such as liver disease, recurrent pancreatitis, and some psychiatric disorders); and those recovering from alcoholism.
Did you know that Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine? Or that Paul told Timothy “stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses” (1 Timothy 5:23)? It’s not that drinking in and of itself is wrong. However, if or when you drink, you should do so in a responsible manner in order to avoid negative consequences. If you can’t drink in a responsible manner, then don’t drink at all.