Alcohol and Other Drugs FAQ

What’s an OK amount to drink?

Moderate drinking for those over the age of 21 is generally considered OK for most. That means no more than 1-2 drinks per day depending on assigned sex at birth. For some people, using any amount of alcohol carries higher health and legal risk, including:

  • People who are pregnant or are trying to become pregnant
  • People who plan to drive or engage in other activities that require alertness and skill (such as using high-speed machinery)
  • People taking certain over-the-counter or prescription medications
  • People with medical conditions that can be made worse by drinking
  • Recovering alcoholics
  • People younger than age 21

What is considered “a drink”?

A standard drink is equal to:

  • 12-ounces of beer or wine cooler
  • 8-ounces of malt liquor
  • 5-ounces of wine
  • 1.5-ounces or a “shot” of 80-proof liquor

What factors influence how alcohol affects a person’s body?

There are a number of factors that influence how alcohol affects a person’s body. Alcohol is water-soluble and is not readily absorbed into body fat, so people with higher percentages of body fat have less liquid in their bodies to dilute the alcohol. In addition, people whose assigned sex at birth is female often have a lower level of the liver enzyme that helps break down alcohol. Medications, including those that contain hormones, also affect how the body processes alcohol.

How does alcohol use affect a person?

Alcohol intoxication can be detrimental to health for a variety of reasons, including, but not limited to:

  • Impaired brain function resulting in poor judgment, reduced reaction time, loss of balance and motor skills, and/or slurred speech
  • Dilation of blood vessels causing a feeling of warmth, but resulting in rapid loss of body heat
  • Increased risk of certain cancers, stroke, and liver diseases, such as cirrhosis particularly when excessive amounts of alcohol are consumed over extended periods of time
  • Damage to a developing fetus if consumed by someone who is pregnant
  • Increased risk of motor-vehicle crashes, violence and other injuries
  • Coma and death can occur due to depression of the central nervous system if alcohol is consumed rapidly and in large amounts

How much can I drink before I shouldn’t drive?

A person doesn’t need to drink much alcohol before their ability to drive becomes impaired. For example, certain driving skills—such as steering a car while responding to changes in traffic—can be impaired by blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) as low as 0.02 percent. Although most states set the BAC limit for adults who drive after drinking at 0.08 to 0.10 percent, impairment of driving skills begins at much lower levels.

Will coffee help me sober up?

Actually, no. Combining caffeine and alcohol introduces other concerns:

  • Caffeine and alcohol are both diuretics (promote fluid loss), so dehydration is a possible issue and is suspected to be the cause of 3 deaths involving energy drinks and alcohol.
  • Combining strong stimulants (caffeine or caffeine-like stimulants) with a heavy depressant (alcohol) could cause cardiopulmonary or cardiovascular failures.
  • Both stimulants and alcohol contribute to a loss of coordination and balance.
  • Both stimulants and alcohol affect the body's ability to regulate temperature.
  • Stimulants may cause drinkers to feel more alert, making them perceive themselves as less impaired for driving or other dangerous activities.
  • Really, the only thing that can sober you up is time. It takes the liver at least one hour to process a drink and nothing can speed this up. Drinking lots of water will decrease the possibility of dehydration.

Is it OK to drink while taking medication?

That depends on the medication. Alcohol interacts negatively with more than 150 medications. Alcohol's effects are heightened by medicines that depress the central nervous system, such as sleeping pills, antihistamines, antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, and some painkillers. In addition, medicines for certain disorders, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease, can have harmful interactions with alcohol. Even something as simple as Tylenol (in high doses) can damage someone’s liver if mixed with alcohol. If you are taking any over-the-counter or prescription medications, ask your doctor or pharmacist if you can safely drink alcohol.