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September 13, 2013 at 8:00 AMComments: 0 Faves: 0

What Is the Definition of Moderate Drinking?

By Jeany Miller More Blogs by This Author

Most of us are familiar with the phrase “drink in moderation.” Although this directive is well-intended, its vague nature begs us to ask, “What is moderation?” Is it two drinks? Four? Eight? Does an appropriate answer even exist? If you asked this question of 10 different people, you'd likely get 10 different responses because one man’s moderation is another man’s dissipation.

What Is Moderate Drinking?

Telling someone to drink in moderation is like saying “don’t drink too much.” Again, how much is too much? One person might say you’ve reached your limit when you feel sick, at which point your blood is poisoned with alcohol. Someone else might say you’ve had too much when you start feeling buzzed – that instant when the world is no longer sharply defined and thoughts are hidden behind a misty curtain.


Organizations even struggle to consistently define moderation. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans identifies moderate alcohol consumption “as having up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men.” But Moderation Management says a moderate drinker “usually does not drink for longer than an hour or two on any particular occasion” and “usually does not drink faster than one drink per half-hour.”

To further add to the muddle, different countries offer different guidelines. Canada recommends a limit of 15 and 10 drinks per week for men and women respectively. The Basque Country Department of Health & Social Security in Spain recommends that both men and women drink no more than 70 grams per day, which equates to about 7 glasses. It gets even more interesting in Luxembourg, where official guidelines are not provided. Instead, the Ministry of Health says, “health authorities promote moderate alcohol consumption (without specifying limits of daily or weekly amounts of pure alcohol that should not be exceeded) and urge consumers to refrain from drinking alcohol when driving.”

Disputed Health Benefits

Even as social and political groups advise us to drink in moderation, they also claim that alcohol has undeniable health benefits. It reduces the risk of coronary heart disease, diabetes, dementia, stroke, and heart attack. Enjoying a glass of beer or wine can even improve a person’s chances for longevity.


Media sources temper their reports of alcohol’s health benefits, probably because they don’t want to entice people to drink more than they already do. But the American approach to alcohol might be the source of our problems with it in the first place. We place undo emphasis on drinking, often separating food and drink so they aren’t enjoyed together but are instead treated as two separate entities. We regard drinking as a singular event that immediately marks it as taboo, like it’s something to be confined to dark spaces and dank corners. Some bars and restaurants – with their dim lighting and shadowy color schemes – support this theory.

Mediterranean countries do just the opposite and consider alcohol an integral part of the daily diet. Most people enjoy small quantities of red wine with their meals, and binge drinking is subsequently much less than in the US. Mediterranean people drink alcohol openly and regularly, without fear of stigma or the desire to overindulge. 

Common Sense

Alcohol consumption is nothing new. Biblical references suggest alcohol was a staple of life long, long ago. The key is to drink for pleasure, not the express purpose of getting drunk. Before you say drunk is a state of pleasure, consider the next day, when the hangover settles in. You might also consider the stupidity that often attaches itself to drinking: the tears, maniacal laughter, and riotous fighting that always seem to present themselves.


We don’t need guidelines to tell us how much drinking is too much - the truth is that we already know. We also know that alcohol is neither all good nor all bad. Its health benefits cannot be felt by those who drink themselves into oblivion five nights a week, just as those who completely abstain cannot enjoy the way alcohol softly blurs life’s hard edges. So pour yourself a glass, raise it in a toast and drink as much as you like – as long as it’s in moderation. There’s no need to drink more than a couple glasses; your problems will still be there in the morning, and the momentary joy of overindulgence isn’t worth the price of a miserable hangover.


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