Could You Be Drinking Too Much, Too Often?

Drinking alcohol has been part of many cultures around the world and dates back thousands of years, maybe even as far back as 13,000 years ago. Although alcohol remains socially acceptable for various occasions and events, it’s a substance that can lead to numerous consequences. Alcohol use is ubiquitous, with about 85% of persons aged 18 years or older reporting that they drank alcohol at some point in their life in a 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Drinking can be dangerous and expensive, as approximately one person dies every 50 minutes from a motor vehicle crash that involves a person who is alcohol-impaired. These alcohol-related crashes cost over $44 billion in damages every year. 


Why People Drink

For decades, scientists have been exploring the question, “Why do people drink?” Several motives have been examined such as:

  • Improving sociability
  • Increasing power
  • Escaping problems
  • Getting drunk
  • Having fun
  • Celebrating cultural rituals

According to one study, most research has focused on drinking to avoid, escape and regulate painful emotions, or on drinking for social reasons like celebrating events, having a good time with friends, and appearing more lively and fun. Although some research suggests that personal reasons are more likely to result in alcohol misuse, social reasons also hold considerable weight. 

In their research, they found that in addition to personal and social reasons, age, friends’ alcohol consumption and gender, all had significant effects on an individual’s level of alcohol consumption. It was reported that more alcohol was consumed when drinking as a coping mechanism for dealing with stress or when people were trying to be more sociable. In other words, individuals drank more when they experienced stress or when their friends drank at social gatherings. These results corroborated the findings of past studies. 

People also drink because of mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. These disorders can make daily life a serious challenge, and some use alcohol just to make it through the day. Excessive alcohol use and a mental health disorder can occur simultaneously, making diagnosis and treatment a challenge. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “heavy drinking associated with alcoholism can coexist with, contribute to, or result from several different psychiatric syndromes.” Some common co-occurring disorders include bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders (i.e., panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder), schizophrenia and major depressive disorder.


How Much Alcohol Is Too Much?

Over the past year and a half or so of the COVID-19 pandemic, one study (N=13,829) showed that one in five adults reported increased drinking and were more likely to consume alcohol if they had severe depression or anxiety symptoms. Alcohol sales are up, as people are finding ways to adjust to the new normal. This is concerning, but how much alcohol is normal to drink? 

First, it is important to know some alcohol basics. A “standard” alcoholic beverage contains about 1.2 tablespoons of pure alcohol. This amount can be found in a 12-ounce beer with 5% alcohol content or a 5-ounce glass of wine with 12% alcohol content. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that women and men limit their intake to one drink and two drinks per day, respectively. Binge and heavy drinking are two types of excessive drinking defined as:   

  1. Binge drinking: Consuming over 4 (women) and 5 (men) drinks in one sitting
  2. Heavy drinking: Consuming over 8 (women) and 15 (men) drinks per week 

Excessive drinking does not mean you have an alcohol use disorder (AUD), although it can result in one. Moreover, it is also possible to have an AUD but be high functioning, meaning that you appear to be accomplishing your daily tasks without a problem. In fact, researchers found that about 20% of persons with AUD “are highly functional and well-educated with good incomes.” However, this takes a toll on your mind and body and increases your chances of engaging in risky behavior (like driving under the influence).

People drink for many reasons, like to deal with stress or to be sociable. Some engage in excessive drinking, which can lead to an alcohol use disorder or death from a fatal car crash. This tempting substance can cause harm to the mind and body and trigger a mental health disorder like depression. Mental disorders can, likewise, be an underlying driver of alcohol use. Casa Palmera has an alcohol detox and residential program fitted with experienced clinicians that can discuss options with you today.  Let us guide you on your recovery journey. Contact us now. 


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.