About Moderate Alcohol Use

Key points

  • Drinking excessively increases your risk of getting sick, injured, or dying sooner.
  • You can choose not to drink alcohol, drink less, or drink in moderation to lower these risks, compared to drinking excessively.
  • However, even moderate drinking may increase your risk of death and other alcohol-related harms, compared to not drinking.

Moderate drinking

Moderate alcohol use is:

  • For men—two drinks or less in a day.
  • For women—one drink or less in a day.

Compared with drinking excessively, moderate drinking reduces your risk of negative health effects.

What the Dietary Guidelines say about moderate alcohol use

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults of legal drinking age (21 or older) should not drink alcohol or drink in moderation if they choose to drink alcohol.1A

Lowering your health risks from alcohol

Most people can consider either:

  • Drinking less.
    • This is better for your health than drinking more.
    • But even moderate drinking may have health risks.12
  • Not drinking.
    • If you don't currently drink, don't start for any reason.

You shouldn't drink at all, even in moderation, if you:1

Keep in mind‎

You can lower your health risks from alcohol by drinking less or not drinking at all.

Science around moderate alcohol use

Moderate drinking increases health risks compared to not drinking

  • Findings from strong studies show that having about 2 drinks per day doesn't lower the risk of death compared to not drinking at all.2
  • In fact, compared to not drinking, drinking alcohol in moderation may increase your overall risks of death and chronic disease.1
    • This includes conditions like cancer and heart disease.345
    • Even low levels of alcohol use (less than 1 drink per day) can raise the risk of certain cancers.3

Issues with past studies on moderate alcohol use and health

Some past studies had suggested that moderate drinking might be good for your health. But scientists highly debate these findings. More studies now show that there aren't health benefits of moderate drinking compared to not drinking.

Many past studies did not consider other factors that could have influenced the results.

Genetic factors or behaviors

Some past studies did not consider genetic factors or behaviors like exercise, diet, or tobacco use.

  • Compared to people who drink more, people who drink moderately might be more likely to exercise, eat healthy, and not smoke.
  • This could make it hard to separate the actual health effects of drinking from health effects of other factors among people who drink moderately.

Health benefits of not drinking

Past studies may have masked the health benefits of not drinking at all.

  • Some studies compared moderate drinking to not drinking at all. But, in the group that didn't drink, scientists combined people who never drank with people who had stopped drinking because of an illness.
  • This could make it seem like people who drank moderately were healthier than those who didn't drink at all.
  • Because of this, the health benefits of not drinking may have been masked by poor outcomes among people in the group that didn’t drink who were sick from an existing illness.
  1. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (Dietary Guidelines) is published and regularly updated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). It provides advice on what to eat and drink to meet nutrient needs, promote health, and help prevent chronic disease—based on the latest science.
  1. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2020 – 2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Accessed March 21, 2024. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/resources/2020-2025-dietary-guidelines-online-materials
  2. Zhao J, Stockwell T, Naimi T, et al. Association between daily alcohol intake and risk of all-cause mortality: a systematic review and meta-analyses. JAMA Netw Open. 2023;6(3):e236185. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.6185
  3. Bagnardi V, Rota M, Botteri E, et al. Alcohol consumption and site-specific cancer risk: a comprehensive dose-response meta-analysis. Br J Cancer. 2015;112(3):580–593. doi:10.1038/bjc.2014.579
  4. Samokhvalov AV, Irving HM, Rehm J. Alcohol consumption as a risk factor for atrial fibrillation: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Eur J Cardiovasc Prev Rehabil. 2010;17(6):706–712. doi:10.1097/HJR.0b013e32833a1947
  5. Biddinger KJ, Emdin CA, Haas ME, et al. Association of habitual alcohol intake with risk of cardiovascular disease. JAMA Netw Open. 2022;5(3):e223849. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.3849