What is Excessive Drinking?

Excessive drinking includes binge drinking and heavy drinking.

Binge drinking is the most common form of excessive drinking. It is defined as consuming:

Women 4 or more drinks in a single occasion. Men 5 or more drinks in a single occasion.

Binge drinking is responsible for one third of the deaths and three-quarters of the costs due to excessive alcohol use in the U.S.

Heavy drinking is defined as consuming:


women 8 or more drinks a week. Men 15 or more drinks a week.

Note: Any drinking by people who are pregnant or younger than age 21 is also considered excessive drinking.

What is considered a drink? U.S. standard drink sizes. 12 ounces 5% ABV beer. 8 ounces 7% ABV malt liquor. 5  ounces 12% ABV wine. 1.5 ounces 40% ABV (80 proof) distilled spirits. Examples: gin, rum, vodka, whiskey.

Alcohol by volume (ABV) refers to the strength of the alcoholic beverage.

Short-Term Health Risks

Drinking too much has immediate effects that increase the risk of many harmful outcomes. These are often from binge drinking.

  • Injuries, such as motor vehicle crashes, falls, drowning, and burns.
  • Violence, including homicide, suicide, and sexual assault.
  • Alcohol poisoning.
  • Behaviors that can result in unintended pregnancy or getting a sexually transmitted infection or HIV.
  • Miscarriage and birth defects.
Your son was excited, not embarrassed, when you arrived for his baseball game. Drink less be your best.

Long-Term Health Effects

Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to chronic diseases and other serious health problems, including:

  • Heart and liver disease, and stroke
  • Cancer
  • Weakened immune system
  • Dementia
  • Mental health problems, such as depression or anxiety
  • Social or family problems
  • Alcohol use disorders

The Price We Pay

Excessive alcohol use is associated with about 178,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. The cost of excessive alcohol use on the U.S. economy is similarly steep.

In 2010, excessive alcohol use cost this country $249 billion. That works out to about $2.05 per drink. The average cost per person was $807. And 77% of these costs were attributed to binge drinking.

Please consult your healthcare provider if you or someone you know needs help with a drinking problem. Other resources include SAMHSA’s Substance Abuse Treatment Facility LocatorNIAAA’s Alcohol Treatment Navigator, and the National Treatment Referral Routing Service available at 1-800-662-HELP. These resources can help you find treatment programs in your community and someone to speak with about an alcohol problem.