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Is There Really No Safe Level of Alcohol Consumption?

depressed lonely woman sitting on couch and drinking wine at home

Our culture glamorizes alcohol consumption, but the truth is that alcohol is fundamentally a toxic, psychoactive, and dependence-producing substance. In January 2023, the World Health Organization published a statement in The Lancet Public Health telling readers that there is no safe amount of alcohol consumption when it comes to protecting your health. In part, their statement was related to the growing number of cancers attributed to light or moderate drinking. 

“We cannot talk about a so-called safe level of alcohol use,” Dr. Carina Ferreira-Borges, acting Unit Lead for Noncommunicable Disease Management and Regional Advisor for Alcohol and Illicit Drugs in the WHO Regional Office for Europe, said. “It doesn’t matter how much you drink—the risk to the drinker’s health starts from the first drop of any alcoholic beverage. The only thing that we can say for sure is that the more you drink, the more harmful it is—or, in other words, the less you drink, the safer it is,” 

Shortly after the WHO announcement, the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction issued its own statement indicating that those who drink only one or two alcoholic beverages per week would likely avoid most alcohol-related health consequences, but the safest choice is not to drink at all.

Understanding the Risks Associated With Alcohol Consumption

The risk of alcohol consumption are numerous and can include:

  • Liver cirrhosis. Alcohol abuse can significantly impact the liver, leading to liver cirrhosis and scarring.
  • Cancer. There is an increased risk of certain types of cancer associated with drinking, including mouth, throat, and breast cancers.
  • Cardiovascular disease. Excessive drinking can lead to high blood pressure, stroke, and heart failure.
  • Depression and anxiety. Alcohol can worsen existing depression and anxiety symptoms or even cause new ones to appear.
  • Memory loss. Heavy drinking has been linked with short-term and long-term memory loss due to its negative effects on the brain
  • Vision impairment. Drinking can lead to blurred vision, reduced night vision, and even potential blindness.
  • Interference with medications. Alcohol consumption can interfere with the effectiveness of certain medications, making them less effective or even dangerous.
  • Accidental injury. Impaired judgment and reflexes due to drinking alcohol can lead to accidents such as car crashes or falls.
  • Risky behaviors. Alcohol consumption has been linked with a higher risk of engaging in risky behaviors such as unprotected sex or drug use.

Factors That Can Increase a Person’s Risk of Negative Consequences From Alcohol Consumption

Despite the fact that there is no safe amount of alcohol, some people are more affected by it than others. Factors such as age, gender, and even genetics can play a part in how someone reacts to drinking.

  • Age. Teens and young adults are more likely to experience negative effects from drinking due to their still-developing brains. 
  • Gender. Women, in particular, are more susceptible to the harmful effects of alcohol, as their bodies process alcohol differently than men. This makes them more likely to suffer from adverse reactions when drinking even small amounts.
  • Genetics. Some people may be more prone to addiction because of genetic risk factors. This means that they are more likely to struggle with alcohol abuse, even when drinking only small amounts.

How Much Alcohol Is Too Much?

Although no amount of alcohol consumption is considered entirely safe from a health standpoint, the CDC defines moderate drinking as no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. Binge drinking is considered consuming four or more drinks in a single day for women and five or more drinks in a single day for men. Heavy drinking is defined as eight or more drinks per week for women or 15 or more drinks for men. 

Heavy drinking and binge drinking are the most dangerous forms of alcohol consumption. However, there is no specific number of drinks per day that indicates a person has an alcohol use disorder. Instead, this condition is diagnosed based on the behaviors a person exhibits in regard to their alcohol consumption. Some signs that suggest a person might be suffering from an alcohol use disorder include:

  • Increasing the number of drinks consumed in order to feel the same effects
  • Drinking alone or in secret
  • Neglecting other responsibilities, such as work and family obligations, because of drinking
  • Unsuccessful attempts to reduce drinking or quit altogether
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms if alcohol is not consumed
  • Craving alcohol or having strong urges to drink
  • Engaging in risky behaviors while drinking, such as drunk driving or unprotected sex

Alcohol use disorders are considered chronic, progressive illnesses. It is possible for a person to be considered a functional alcoholic in the early stages because they are able to hide their illness from the casual observer, but their condition will only get worse without treatment. 

If You’re Struggling, We’re Here to Help

If you find yourself drinking more and more frequently or find that your drinking has become difficult to control, Waypoint Recovery Center can help. Our South Carolina residential addiction treatment program offers a full continuum of care for men and women with alcohol use disorders, including a specialized treatment program to meet the needs of veterans and first responders. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you begin your recovery journey. 


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For more information about Waypoint Recovery Center’s substance use disorder treatment services, please contact us anytime at (888) 978-5188.

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