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How Many Drinks Per Week Is Too Much?

a woman leans forward as she wonders how much alcohol is too much

One person’s definition of moderate alcohol consumption may be very different from others, and as many as one in three American adults drink excessively, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So, how much alcohol is too much to drink in a week’s time? You can get answers by calling the alcohol addiction treatment center at Vertava Health today at 844.470.0410 for support or reaching out to our team using our online form today.

How Many Drinks Per Week Is Too Much?

To many people, there are only two kinds of drinkers, those who drink in moderation and alcoholics. However, this is not an accurate representation. According to alcohol researchers, there is a broad spectrum of alcohol use. Because alcohol can affect individuals differently, it can be hard to define what too much alcohol is for the general population, hence the widely varied guidelines for recommended alcohol consumption.

Even clinicians may give their patients staggeringly different rules of thumb when it comes to how much alcohol they should consume. Some suggest limiting alcohol intake to three glasses a day. Others advise the 1-2-3 rule (one drink a day, no more than two at once, no more than three times a week), while some may merely state to consume alcohol in moderation.

Consuming seven or more drinks per week is considered excessive or heavy drinking for women, and 15 drinks or more per week is deemed to be excessive or heavy drinking for men.

A standard drink, as defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), is equivalent to:

  • 12 fl oz. of beer (at five percent alcohol content)
  • 8-9 fl oz. of malt liquor (at seven percent alcohol content)
  • Five fl oz. of table wine (at 12 percent alcohol content)
  • 1.5 fl oz or a shot of 80-proof distilled spirits (at 40 percent alcohol content)

Why Alcohol Affects Men and Women Differently

Women absorb and metabolize alcohol differently than men. Women’s bodies are typically smaller, so they have less body water and a higher liver-to-lean-body-mass ratio. These two factors allow them to reach peak blood alcohol levels faster and to break down alcohol at a faster rate than most men, which is why their weekly alcohol limit is so much lower.

Research also suggests that women may be more vulnerable to alcohol-related organ damage than men. However, men are more likely to become dependent on alcohol than women.

Other factors which can affect the rate at which someone’s body processes alcohol can include:

  • Bodyweight – An individual’s body weight determines the amount of space alcohol has to diffuse within the body. In general, the more someone weighs, the lower their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level will be, compared to individuals who weigh less but drink the same amount.
  • Other medications – Other drugs and medications may have adverse effects or unpredictable interactions when combined with alcohol. In some cases, other substances may increase the effects of alcohol or cause fatal interactions.
  • Eating before or while they drink – When someone eats before or while they drink alcohol, it can slow down their body’s ability to process alcohol. When someone drinks on an empty stomach, alcohol can irritate the digestive system and cause more rapid alcohol absorption.

Health Risks Associated with Drinking Too Much Alcohol

Drinking too much, whether on a single occasion or every week, can seriously affect someone’s overall health. Alcohol can affect every organ in the body. It is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant that is rapidly absorbed by the stomach and small intestine into the bloodstream. The intensity of the effects of alcohol on the body is directly related to the amount consumed.

There are many health risks associated with excess alcohol consumption.

Liver and Pancreas Damage

Heavy drinking can cause a lot of potential damage to the liver because this organ metabolizes alcohol. However, the liver can only metabolize a small amount of alcohol at a time, leaving excess alcohol to circulate throughout the body. Alcohol-related liver damage can lead to issues such as:

  • Steatosis (fatty liver)
  • Alcoholic hepatitis (liver inflammation)
  • Fibrosis
  • Cirrhosis (liver scarring)

Alcohol consumption can also cause the pancreas to produce toxic substances that may eventually lead to pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is a dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas that prevents proper digestion.

Brain Damage

Alcohol can disrupt the communication pathways in the brain and can affect the way the brain functions. The disruptions to the communication pathways in the brain may result in sudden changes in mood or behavior and make it harder to think clearly or move with coordination. Over time, drinking too much on a weekly basis may cause permanent damage or changes to the physical structures in the brain.

Heart Disease

Individuals who consume more than the recommended amount of alcohol per week can damage their heart, causing problems such as:

  • Cardiomyopathy (stretching and drooping of heart muscles)
  • Arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat)
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure

Increased Risk of Certain Cancers

Regularly consuming large amounts of alcohol can also increase an individual’s risk of developing certain cancers, including:

  • Mouth cancer
  • Esophagus cancer
  • Throat cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Breast cancer

Because the most common way to consume alcohol is to drink it, the parts of the body the alcohol comes into contact with most are often the most susceptible.

Immune System Failure

Excessive weekly drinking can weaken an individual’s immune system, making their body much more susceptible to other diseases. Chronic drinking is more likely to expose people to diseases such as pneumonia and tuberculosis compared to people who abstain from drinking. Even drinking a significant amount on a single occasion can slow the body’s ability to ward off infection up to 24 hours after getting drunk.

When Does Drinking Too Much Become an Addiction?

Excessive drinking does not always mean someone has a severe alcohol use disorder (AUD). In fact, about 90 percent of people who drink excessively would not likely meet the criteria for an alcohol use disorder. Severe alcohol use disorders, also known as alcohol dependence or alcoholism, are chronic diseases. Some signs of severe alcohol use disorder can include:

  • Inability to limit drinking
  • Continuing to drink despite personal loss or professional problems
  • Needing to drink more to get the same effect
  • Wanting to drink so badly that it becomes impossible to think of anything else

Drinking is a problem if it causes trouble in personal relationships, school, social activities, or how an individual thinks and feels. If someone has developed a drinking problem, it may be best to consult a primary care provider or addiction specialist for more information.

Treatment Options for Alcohol Use And Addiction

There are many treatment options for alcohol use and addiction. Individuals who struggle with alcohol may be able to stop on their own if they have not yet become dependent on the substance. However, those who have developed a dependence on alcohol will likely need professional help to stop drinking.

Inpatient drug and alcohol rehab centers combine medication-assisted treatments, such as naltrexone(Vivitrol) or disulfiram (Antabuse), and behavioral therapies to help individuals overcome their dependence on alcohol. These programs teach individuals about their addiction and how to recognize their triggers so that they will be ready for life after treatment. We may recommend therapeutic modalities such as:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • Animal-assisted therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Adventure therapy

These programs typically last 30 to 90 days, but some people may need longer treatment depending on the severity of their addiction.

Begin Alcohol Addiction Treatment at Vertava Health Today

If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction, we can help. At Vertava Health, we offer evidence-based treatment programs that are designed to help you overcome your addiction and build a foundation for long-term recovery. To learn more, please contact Vertava Health today at 844.470.0410.