This post was originally published on July 8, 2014.
Nobody likes to be labeled—unless, of course, the label is “light to moderate drinker,” according to an article on CNN.
Defining the Undefinable
Apparently, some people are quite concerned about whether or not they fall under the government’s classification of “heavy drinker,” and so they call upon the powers that be to define it. But this has proven to be more complicated than it sounds, what with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse (NIAA) having their definition, and the National Survey on Drug Use and Health having theirs. Doctors and scientists have attempted to agree on a general formula to gauge the answer but with so many factors contributing to an individual’s drinking limits, a one-size-fits-all definition seems to have its own label: “imprecise and not quantitative.”
According to CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent, the handsome and brightly grilled Dr. Sanjay Gupta, the CDC’s definition of “heavy drinker” is the current government standard: 15 drinks or more per week for a man and eight drinks or more per week for a woman—transgender ladies perhaps winning this one with the best of both worlds: looking like a girl but being able to drink like a guy (bitches!). So if you are one of those “glass of wine with dinner” gals or “couplabeers after work” bros—congratulations! You are not only not a heavy drinker, you are a healthy drinker—at least according to those studies which show that light to moderate daily drinkers have a lower death rate than teetotalers like me (foiled again!).
Sipping a Fine Line
But, as Dr. Gupta points out, heavy drinking standards are on the low end and there is a very real tipping point where healthy consumption and at-risk consumption can almost literally be a drink away. And if you are thinking you can beat the system by pounding your weekly allotment of booze in one sitting—think again. Binge drinking is especially harmful, and is considered by the CDC to be five or more drinks on one occasion for men and four or more drinks for women (making me a former daily binge drinker!).
I think what might be the most alarming part of this article is the drunken elephant in the room: heavy drinking is problematic. It isn’t actually a badge of honor or something to casually tease Uncle Frank about. With light shed on the CDC’s definition, most of us can no longer look at statistics like 88,000 alcohol-related deaths per year (which works out to be one out of every 10 deaths), and tuck it away in the “doesn’t apply to me” drawer. If you or someone you know is more than a moderate drinker, you or they are in danger of a number of issues, ranging from diseases of the liver, throat, larynx and esophagus to high blood pressure, psychological problems and pancreatitis. And this doesn’t even include deaths resulting from drunk driving—a stat that would have to include innocent victims who may not ever have taken a drink themselves!
Warning Genuine Strugglers and Simply Health Conscious
As a recovering alcoholic, reports like this used to cause me high levels of anxiety. It was almost as if my nervous system didn’t know the difference between drinking-related heath stats and a Level 4 Tsunami Warning; both afflicted me with a sense of immanent and impending doom that I felt powerless to do anything about. So if you can relate to that, you don’t have to worry about anyone’s definition of a heavy drinker—you most likely are one (sad face). The good news is, being a heavy drinker doesn’t necessarily mean you have a drinking problem or that you are alcoholic; it just means you need to cut back to moderate consumption if you are concerned about your health. And if you or someone you know happen to find this particularly challenging or impossible, there are many places to go or call to get the help you need.