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Dr. Zorba Paster: 2-3 drinks a day isn't OK if you want to avoid adverse health effects

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Booze, wine, beer. It’s all the same when it comes to how your body metabolizes things.

I tell people they can have one drink a day for women, two for men — or seven a week for women and 14 for men. Women do metabolize alcohol differently.

What’s defined as one drink? That’s what lots of people ask me. It’s considered a can of beer, 12 ounces with about 5% alcohol, or 5 ounces of wine or 1½ ounces of 80 proof spirits. Those are all about the same amount of alcohol. Wisconsin is a drinking state, so knowing those numbers is important.

The issue is that binge drinking, or drinking more than five drinks at one sitting, is thought of by lots of folks as something only young people do. We picture them at bars on the weekend drinking to excess, but we forget that lots of midlife and older folks do this all the time.

So, let’s talk about the risks of binge drinking — and, by the way, I’m not talking about those Packer game drinking events that are few and far between but about what happens regularly.

This is where the Midlife Development in the United States study comes into play. MIDUS is an ongoing longitudinal study that uses observational surveys to examine numerous health and well-being aspects as people age.

Of those taking part in these long-term surveys, 1,200 were current drinkers age 30 and older who were followed over a roughly 10-year period from 2004 to 2015. They were asked about their health, exercise, diet, smoking — things that are always part of health discussions — and they were asked about their drinking habits.

Folks who reported binge drinking on a regular basis were three times more likely to have alcohol problems affecting their day-to-day lives even when they were not drinking. The standardized survey showed that these people had more injuries, increased desire to drink more often and needed to have more drinks to get the same effect.

They also used alcohol more often when they knew they shouldn’t, thought more about drinking during the day and were likely to have trouble concentrating at work or at school. Oh, and one other thing, they had more trouble caring for their young children and teens. Wow.

Most of the binge drinkers were not young folks, but they were moderate to average-level drinkers, those who had two to three drinks a day. Among moderate drinkers, binge drinking was linked to twice as many serious alcohol-related problems nearly 10 years later.

The bottom line here is that we need increased recognition of binge drinking as a public health problem, more than most people realize. Why? Because it’s prevalent among moderate drinkers.

My spin: If you’re drinking more than five drinks a day and you’re doing it on more than just a rare occasion, you have a problem. You might not think you do, but the data doesn’t lie.

Drink less. Live better. Live longer. And stay well.

This column provides general health information. Always consult your personal health care provider about concerns. No ongoing relationship of any sort is implied or offered by Dr. Paster to people submitting questions. Any opinions expressed by Dr. Paster in his columns are personal and are not meant to represent or reflect the views of SSM Health.

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