Severance: When it comes to drinking, what is moderation? Well, it depends (column) | VailDaily.com

Severance: When it comes to drinking, what is moderation? Well, it depends (column)

Dr. David Severance
Valley Voices

Editor's note: Find a cited version of this column at http://www.vaildaily.com.

A glass of wine with dinner, a few beers with work friends — drinking is not going to hurt you unless you overdo it. Right?

It's hard to say. New research shows even moderate alcohol use may have serious health outcomes.

One recent study, published in the journal PLOS Medicine, analyzed the correlation moderate drinking has with risk of death and also the potential for developing cancer. Researchers found the risk of death increased for those who consumed one to five drinks per week. The study also found consuming five to seven drinks per week increased risk of cancer by 10 percent.

This study highlights the potential health risks associated with drinking, even when alcohol consumption falls within the guidelines set by the U.S. government. The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion considers safe consumption to be up to one drink per day for women and up to two per day for men.

So, what counts as a "drink"? It depends on what's in your glass, can or bottle. A small shot of spirits, a 12-ounce beer and 5 ounces of wine are each considered one drink.

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On the flip side from moderation, heavy drinking levels, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, are:

• More than four drinks on any day or more than 14 drinks in a week for men.

• More than three drinks on any day or more than seven drinks in a week for women.

If you want to cut back, then numerous strategies may help.

Look for social gatherings that focus on something other than alcohol consumption, such as bike rides, meditation sessions, adult education classes, volunteering or community activities.

If you're planning to attend an event that includes alcohol, then volunteer to be the designated driver. If you do drink, then take it slowly and have at least one glass of water between each serving of alcohol.

If you don't think you can cut back on your own, then talk to your doctor. There may be resources available to help. Check with your benefit plan to see what services are covered.

Dr. David Severance is the chief medical officer for UnitedHealthcare of Colorado.