What does drinking in moderation look like?

A Reflection for Alcohol Awareness Month by Jim Shackelford, PhD, LCP, LMFT, CADC

Recently, I spent two weeks enjoying both the men’s and women’s March Madness competitions. But it was different this year. During March Madness, I am usually on vacation in Florida and enjoy watching games at one of the local sports bars, enjoying seafood and sometimes a beer. However, COVID-19 has brought home a new reality: no large gatherings. Safety calls on us to show discretion and avoid big groups. So, I watched these games with family instead. And I enjoyed seafood of all varieties—shrimp, grouper, scallops, oysters, and calamari.  Since I rarely drink, I did not miss my occasional beer. Overall, I found a way to have fun without a big group in a bar.

For many of us, alcohol makes life more fun, sociable, and enjoyable; however, missing the fun of gatherings has proven painful and many have turned to alcohol in response. For some, drinking more at home alone or drinking to escape the pain of isolation and boredom has become a problem. In a recent JAMA study, drinking was up 14% for men and 17% for women in response to COVID stress. And there was more binge drinking, which means having more than 5 servings in one sitting.

So, how can we consume alcohol in a safe and responsible way? We can work on practicing moderation. Moderation means to avoid excess or extremes—in this case, to drink within reasonable limits.

Your next question might be, what are those reasonable limits?

A few days ago, I was offered a 7.5 ounce can of Coke. This size is a moderate serving. A normal can of Coke is 12 ounces, but the small can still satisfied me. I enjoyed the soda in moderation. When you drink alcohol, think moderation, think about what one serving means, and remember that, just like the soda, you can enjoy and feel satisfied by a moderate amount.

Finally, you might wonder, what does one moderate serving of alcohol look like exactly?

One serving of 5% ABV beer is 12 ounces, which is the size of one standard beer bottle.

One serving of 7% ABV malt liquor is 8 ounces, which is the size of one standard malt liquor bottle.

One serving of 12% ABV wine is 5 ounces, which is the size of one standard wine glass.

One serving of 40% ABV (80 proof) distilled spirits is 1.5 ounces, which is the size of one standard shot glass.

Moderation Management recommends 2 servings a day for men and 1 serving a day for women. If you exceed these amounts, skip a day. But do not consume more than 4 servings at a time. Total servings per week should not exceed 14 for men and 7 for women. When thinking of drinking alcohol moderately, remember what one serving is and remember that you can enjoy and feel satisfied by a moderate serving.

For more information about practicing healthy drinking habits, visit https://www.rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/How-much-is-too-much/What-counts-as-a-drink/Whats-A-Standard-Drink.aspx

For more resources and information about substance abuse prevention and treatment services, visit https://www.rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/Help-links/Default.aspx

SAMHSA's National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders. You can call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) to speak with someone at the SAMHSA Helpline now.