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Drinking Levels Defined

The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend that alcohol should be consumed in moderation (as defined below), and only by adults of legal drinking age.

What Counts as “One Drink”?

Different types of beer, wine, or malt liquor can have very different amounts of alcohol content, and the amount of liquid in your glass, bottle, or can doesn’t necessarily match up to how much alcohol is actually in your drink. For example, many light beers have almost as much alcohol as regular beer—about 85% as much.

That’s why it’s important to know how much alcohol your drink contains. In the U.S., one “standard” drink (or one alcoholic drink equivalent) contains roughly 14 grams of pure alcohol, which is found in:

  • 12 ounces of regular beer (about 5% alcohol)
  • 5 ounces of wine (about 12% alcohol)
  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (about 40% alcohol)

Moderate Alcohol Consumption

  • For women: Up to 1 drink per day
  • For men: Up to 2 drinks per day

Binge Drinking

Binge drinking is a pattern of drinking alcohol that brings your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08% or higher. This can lead to overdose or a blackout. To learn more, see Binge Drinking FAQs.

  • For women: 4 or more drinks within 2 hours
  • For men: 5 or more drinks within 2 hours

High-Intensity Drinking

High-intensity drinking is a pattern of drinking alcohol at levels twice or more of the thresholds for binge drinking. Research suggests that high-intensity drinking peaks around age 21 and is most common among young adults attending college. This pattern of drinking is of particular concern because it is associated with an even greater risk of severe health and safety consequences.

  • For women: 8 or more drinks on one occasion
  • For men: 10 or more drinks on one occasion

Heavy Alcohol Use

  • For women: More than 3 drinks per day
  • For men: More than 4 drinks per day
  • Or binge drinking on at least 5 days per month

Binge drinking, high-intensity drinking, and heavy alcohol use can increase your risk of alcohol use disorder.

You Should Avoid Alcohol Completely If:

  • You plan to drive or operate machinery, or participate in activities that require skill, coordination, and alertness
  • You take certain over-the-counter or prescription medications
  • You have certain medical conditions
  • You are recovering from alcohol use disorder or are unable to control the amount that they drink
  • You are younger than age 21
  • You are pregnant or trying to become pregnant