When it comes to booze, people often ask just how much alcohol is too much. In any situation, ‘drinking less is more’. Drinking less is preferable in order to avoid the negative consequences of alcohol as well as to prevent an addiction from developing in the long-run.

Alcohol consumption is associated with a number of short- and long-term health consequences, such as car accidents, violence, risky sex behaviours, high blood pressure and even cancer.

Learn more about your drinking through these definitions of drinking levels to find out just how many drinks at a time is considered unhealthy. All definitions apply to adults only as it is illegal for children to drink. In South Africa, the minimum legal drinking age is 18 years, while in some other countries – like the United States (US) – people are only legally permitted to drink over the age of 21.

Moderate drinking

Moderate drinking is defined as two drinks or less in a day for men and one drink or less in a day for women, according to the US’ National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). The reason for the difference in alcohol intake between genders is due to the fact that women absorb and metabolise alcohol differently than men. In general women achieve higher blood alcohol levels than men of the same weight because women have, on average, lower levels of body water.

What is ‘one drink’ in terms of common alcoholic beverages?

One drink =

  • Beer: 355mls of 5% alcohol content beer
  • Wine: 148mls of 12% alcohol content wine
  • Distilled spirits: 44mls of 40% alcohol content spirits

Binge Drinking

Binge drinking refers to drinking a high volume of alcohol in a short space of time or drinking with the intention of getting drunk.

Binge drinking, as defined by NIAAA, is a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08% or higher. For men this is roughly equivalent to drinking five or more alcoholic beverages within a two-hour period. For women, this equates to consuming four or more drinks within the same period of time.

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How does South Africa compare to the rest of the world when it comes to alcohol consumption?

  • SA ranks 19th in the world when it comes to the biggest drinking nations
  • In 2015, the pure alcohol consumption (per litre) in SA sat at 11.5 litres per capita per year
  • This is expected to increase to 12.1 by 2025
  • More than a quarter of the drinking population in SA are considered binge drinkers

Another, but similar, definition of binge drinking is given by the American Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. It defines binge drinking as five or more drinks (for men) or four or more drinks (for women) consumed on the same occasion – i.e., within a period of a couple of hours – on at lease one day in the past month.

Both of the above definitions relate to the US. In the United Kingdom, the National Health Service defines binge drinking as consuming at least eight units of alcohol in a single session (for men) and consuming at least six units of alcohol in a single session (for women).

Six units of alcohol is equivalent to two 500ml servings of 5% strength beer or two large (250ml) glasses of 12% strength wine. Eight units is equivalent to five 330ml bottles of 5% strength beer or five small (125ml) glasses of 13% strength wine.

Heavy drinking

According to NIAAA, heavy drinking is defined as drinking more than four alcoholic beverages on a given day – or more than 14 drinks per week – for men. For women heavy drinking is defined as drinking more than three alcoholic beverages a day or more than seven per week.

Remember, in South Africa the legal driving limit for alcohol is having a BAC of more than 0.05%. According to the South African Police Service, if you have even a ‘small drink’ you may be over the limit. If you have more than a 350ml serving of beer or if you have more than single tot of brandy or other spirit, you could already be over the limit. If you are caught driving over the limit you could face a fine or a prison sentence – or both.

Do you suspect you have a drinking problem? Contact us today and one of our experienced staff members will conduct an addiction assessment.

There is always help and there is always hope and help available. Changes Rehab Johannesburg is here to guide and support you through each step.

Call 081-444-7000 or email [email protected] to get the help you need today.