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Research Summary

Risky Drinking Limits: National Recommendations Make Sense

Some clinicians question the drinking limits* defined by national guidelines. They are uncertain whether exceeding these limits, even slightly, causes serious health consequences. To examine the association between exceeding drinking limits and alcohol abuse and dependence (which include a range of health consequences), researchers analyzed data from a nationally representative sample of 26,946 adult drinkers.

  • Approximately 37% of subjects who exceeded daily limits about once per week had current alcohol dependence and/or abuse.
  • As the frequency of exceeding daily limits increased, the prevalence of dependence increased (from 0.4% among those who never exceeded daily limits to 41% among those who exceeded these limits daily or almost daily).
  • Exceeding weekly limits significantly increased the prevalence of dependence among
    • drinkers who never exceeded daily limits (2% of those who exceeded weekly but not daily limits versus 0.3% of those who exceeded neither limit);
    • drinkers who exceeded daily limits >=2 times per month (e.g., 27% of those who exceeded weekly plus daily limits twice per week versus 9% of those who exceeded the daily, but not the weekly, limits).

Comments:

The more frequently one exceeds daily drinking limits, the greater the risk of consequences. However, recommended drinking limits—like other measures in medicine (e.g., blood pressure)—do not provide a clear threshold above which health consequences will develop. Nonetheless, this study, like others, supports national drinking recommendations, showing that drinking more than the recommended limits is associated with substantial health consequences.

Rosanne T. Guerriero, MPH
Richard Saitz, MD, MPH
*Daily limits defined as <=4 drinks for men, <=3 drinks for women; weekly limits defined as <=14 drinks for men, <=7 drinks for women

Reference:

Dawson DA, Grant BF, Li TK. Quantifying the risks associated with exceeding recommended drinking limits. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2005;29(5):902–908.


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