The Basics: Overview

If you don’t drink alcohol, there’s no reason to start. If you choose to drink, having only a moderate (limited) amount can lower your risk for health problems caused by drinking. Some people shouldn’t drink at all, like people younger than 21 years, people who are pregnant or might be pregnant, and people with certain health conditions.

What is a moderate amount of alcohol?

A moderate amount of alcohol means:

  • 1 drink or less in a day for women
  • 2 drinks or less in a day for men

Remember that drinking less is always better for your health than drinking more. Even moderate drinking can have health risks.

What is 1 drink equal to?

Different types of beer, wine, and liquor have different amounts of alcohol. In general, 1 standard drink is equal to a:

  • Bottle or can of regular beer (12 ounces)
  • Glass of wine (5 ounces)
  • Shot of distilled spirits, such as gin, rum, or vodka (1.5 ounces)

Keep in mind that the size of the drink and the percent of alcohol makes a difference. For example, many beers are about 5% alcohol, but some have higher percentages of alcohol. And some beers are sold in bigger sizes than the standard 12 ounces. 

Different drinks have different amounts of calories, too. These calories add up — and getting more calories than you need can make it harder to stay at a healthy weight. For example, a 12-ounce bottle of beer has about 150 calories. 

The Basics: Health Risks

Drinking more than a moderate amount of alcohol can put you at risk for personal and health problems, including alcohol use disorder. 

What are the risks of drinking too much?

Drinking too much raises your risk for many health problems, including serious conditions that can lead to death. Some examples of alcohol-related health problems include:

  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Liver disease
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • 7 types of cancer
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Stroke

Even moderate drinking may raise your risk for some types of heart disease and cancer. For example, the risk of breast cancer increases even at low levels of drinking (for example, less than 1 drink in a day). 

Alcohol can also change your behavior. Drinking too much can put you and others at risk for:

  • Accidents, violence, and injuries
  • Unplanned pregnancy or STIs (sexually transmitted infections) from unprotected sex

Learn more about the risks of drinking too much

What is alcohol use disorder?

If drinking causes problems in your life, you may have alcohol use disorder (also called alcoholism). 

You may have alcohol use disorder if any of these things are true:

  • You can’t control how much or how often you drink
  • You need to drink more and more to feel the effects
  • You feel anxious, irritable, or stressed when you aren’t drinking
  • You find yourself thinking a lot about when you can drink next 
  • Alcohol is causing problems with your work, relationships, or health

Certain health problems — like depression or anxiety, sleep problems, and chronic pain — can put you at a higher risk for alcohol use disorder.

Talk with your doctor right away if you have signs of alcohol use disorder — even if you don’t think they’re causing any problems in your life. There are treatments that can help. See more signs of alcohol use disorder

The Basics: Don’t Drink If…

Who shouldn’t drink at all?

Don’t drink at all if you:

  • Are pregnant or might be pregnant — alcohol can harm a developing baby
  • Are younger than 21 years
  • Take certain over-the-counter or prescription medicines — check medicine labels or ask your doctor or pharmacist if it’s safe to drink while taking your medicines 
  • Are recovering from alcohol use disorder or can’t control how much you drink
  • Have a health condition that can be made worse by drinking (such as liver disease or HIV)
  • Plan to drive or do other activities that require skill, coordination, and alertness (like using sharp tools or cooking on a stove)

Take Action: Set Limits

Here are some strategies to help you cut back or stop drinking.

Keep track of your drinking.

Keeping track of each drink may help you drink less overall. These drinking tracker cards can help. You can also make notes in your smartphone to keep track of your drinks.

Set goals.

Decide how many days a week you’ll drink and how much you’ll drink on those days. For men,  try not to have more than 2 drinks a day. For women, try not to have more than 1 drink a day. It’s also a good idea to have some days when you don’t drink at all.

Remember, drinking less is better for your health than drinking more.

Take Action: Make a Plan

Learn new skills to help you change your drinking habits.

Planning ahead can help you manage situations when you might be tempted to drink too much. Think ahead about how to say “no” if someone offers you a drink.

Read about skills that can help you limit or avoid drinking:

Find healthy ways to manage stress.

If you have a bad day or are feeling angry, don’t reach for a drink. Try taking a walk, calling a friend, or seeing a movie. Get tips to help you manage stress.

Avoid places where people drink a lot.

Stay away from bars and other places that may make you want to drink.

Limit the amount of alcohol you keep at home.

If you keep a lot of alcohol around, you may be tempted to go over the drinking limit you set for yourself when you’re at home.

Make a list of reasons not to drink.

Make a list of reasons to drink less or quit. Keep this list in your wallet, on your fridge, or in an app on your phone. Look at it when you have an urge to drink.

If you want to lose weight or save money, use these calculators to:

Take Action: Get Help

If you think you might be drinking too much, ask for help.

Ask your friends and loved ones to support you. Talk with a doctor or nurse if you’re having a hard time cutting back on your drinking.

Get treatment.

There are effective treatments for alcohol use disorder. Doctors can treat it with talk therapy, medicine, or both. Learn about different treatments for alcohol use disorder.

If one type of treatment doesn’t work for you, you can try another. Don’t give up!

To get help with alcohol use disorder:

What about cost?

Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance plans must cover alcohol misuse screening and counseling. Depending on your insurance plan, you may be able to get these services at no cost to you. Check with your insurance company to find out more.  

Medicare may also cover alcohol-related services at no cost. If you have Medicare, learn about Medicare coverage for alcohol misuse screening and counseling

If you don’t have insurance, you may still be able to get free or low-cost help for alcohol misuse. Find a health center near you and ask about alcohol misuse screening and counseling.

To learn more, check out these resources:

Are you worried about a loved one’s drinking?

Use these tips to talk with someone about cutting back or quitting drinking.