Women on the Verge of a Drinking Problem
One and Done
Here's the bottom line: The USDA defines moderate alcohol consumption for women as being no more than one daily serving of 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or a one-and-a-half ounce shot of hard liquor. (It's not fair, but men are allowed two drinks a day because they metabolize alcohol more easily than women do.) Plain and simple, "Women who drink just one drink a day live the longest," Dr. Rimm says. "That's it?" I ask, realizing that I regularly drink twice that amount. I quickly dismiss the government recommendations as overly conservative, in much the same way that I convince myself that a half cup of ice cream isn't a "real" serving. I call Deidra Roach, MD, a program officer in the Division of Treatment and Recovery Research of the NIAAA, to parse the disclaimers. Surely this limit is intentionally low to include women who weigh less than 100 pounds or who get buzzed off two sips of wine. But while she acknowledges that individual women process alcohol differently according to body weight and genetic background, the recommendation is based on huge scientific studies and pretty much applies to all of us. "When you drink more than that, your risk for alcohol-use disorders and health problems increases," she says.
Here's my gripe with this one-drink-a-day rule: The women I know don't imbibe in perfectly spaced one glass increments. They share a bottle of wine with their husband or drink several servings throughout an evening -- but not every evening. A 2011 survey of American drinking habits by Yahoo! Shine reported that 15 percent of adult women fess up to downing three to five drinks over a typical weekend, while 7 percent admit they have six or more. They're more moderate on weekdays, as 21 percent say they drink one to two over the course of the week and 7 percent have three or more. That's the real world.
So here's some good news: In an effort to make the guidelines easier to follow, the NIAAA, which is an arm of the National Institutes of Health, has developed a more realistic approach that allows you to divvy up your seven-drink total weekly allotment -- as long as you don't have more than three drinks in one day. For example, you could go crazy with three margaritas on Saturday night, enjoy a beer during the game on Sunday, and sprinkle your remaining three servings of wine during the weekdays.
Really, that's okay? Well, sort of. To be your healthiest, one drink a day is best -- period. Dr. Roach recommends spacing your drinks evenly throughout the week whenever possible. But when you do have a three-drink-splurge once in a while (and you know you will), don't guzzle them but space them out throughout the evening, maybe with a nonalcoholic drink between each one.
Still, I'm discouraged. For me alcohol isn't medicine to be taken in measured doses. It's more about my psyche. That first sweet sip of wine smooths out the edges of a rough day. It's a ritual -- I love having a glass of chardonnay while cooking dinner and chatting with my boyfriend. Then there's the importance of alcohol to my social life. Nearly every professional and alumni event I go to is at one of the new wine bars popping up everywhere, and at book club meetings my friends and I often bring bottles of wine with funny labels, such as Mommy's Time Out and Mad Housewife.