Alcohol - How much is safe to drink

Jan 26, 2018,

In many parts of the world, drinking alcoholic beverages is a common feature of social gatherings. Nevertheless, the consumption of alcohol carries a risk of adverse health and social consequences related to its intoxicating, toxic and dependence-producing properties.

In addition to the chronic diseases that may develop in those who drink large amounts of alcohol over a number of years, alcohol use is also associated with an increased risk of acute health conditions, such as injuries, including from traffic accidents.

When it comes to your health, is it better to drink or not to drink? How much is safe to drink?

It's becoming an even more complicated question, especially in the wake of several recent studies linking even a little drinking of alcohol to a higher risk of cancers. Conversely, other studies have also linked a moderate consumption of alcohol to a reduced risk of developing coronary artery disease.

Key facts1

  • * In 2012, about 3.3 million deaths, or 5.9% of all global deaths, were attributable to alcohol consumption.
  • * Alcohol-related harm is determined by the volume of alcohol consumed, the pattern of drinking, and, on rare occasions, the quality of alcohol consumed
  • * The harmful use of alcohol is a component cause of more than 200 disease and injury conditions in individuals, most notably alcohol dependence, liver cirrhosis, cancers and injuries
  • * The latest causal relationships suggested by research are those between harmful use of alcohol and infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS


How much is safe to drink?

Deciding how much alcohol is safe to drink is a very controversial topic in most developed countries owing to the fact that some studies have shown a beneficial cardio-protective effect in moderate consumption of alcohol.

According to a population based study carried out in Australia, it was concluded that although “alcohol consumption has been associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease, the adverse physical and social effects of alcohol consumption should prevent consumption of alcohol being recommended as a health measure”.

This also corroborates the submission of the WHO global status report on alcohol and health which states that "the relationship between alcohol consumption and cardiovascular diseases is complex. The beneficial cardio-protective effect of relatively low levels of drinking for ischemic heart disease and ischemic stroke disappears with heavy drinking occasions. Moreover, excessive alcohol consumption has detrimental effects on hypertension, atrial fibrillation and hemorrhagic stroke, regardless of the drinking pattern"

A standard drink in most developed countries is said to contain about 0.6ounces (14grams) of pure alcohol. This is equivalent to the total alcohol content found in:

  • * A can of (5% alcohol) beer
  • * ¾ glass of (12% alcohol) wine
  • * A standard 44mls glass shot of (40% alcohol) distilled spirit or liquor


  1. - World Health Organization (WHO) Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health 2015
  2. - How much alcohol and how often? Population based case-control study of alcohol consumption and risk of a major coronary event

BMJ 1997; 314 doi: (Published 19 April 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;314:1159

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