Do you have a healthy relationship with alcohol?

Guest Column
Stephen Runde, MD
MercyCare Monticello

     Whether it’s St. Patrick’s Day, the Fourth of July, a friend’s wedding or a family get-together, parties and celebrations often involve adult beverages. But, have you ever considered whether you have a healthy relationship with alcohol?

     The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Dietary Guidelines for Americans define moderate alcohol consumption as “up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.” This is not intended to be an average across several days; it’s a daily recommendation for moderation.

     So, what if you have more than that? How big of a problem is it? The answer is: it depends.

One Size Does Not Fit All

     Reactions to alcohol can vary by factors beyond your control – such as age, gender, ethnicity, and family history – as well as aspects you can control, such as your physical condition, how much food you eat before drinking, how quickly you drink, and any medications you take regularly. Therefore, it’s difficult to apply firm, universal definitions and rules around drinking.

     You may have also heard about “health benefits” of alcohol. Unfortunately, any benefits gained from drinking certain types of alcohol are quite small and would not apply to all individuals. Diet, exercise, and medication are safer, more reliable ways to achieve the same results.

     Still, if you like to imbibe now and then, let’s take a look at what that might mean.

Binge Drinking vs. Heavy Drinking

     Binge drinking is defined as a pattern of consumption that brings the blood alcohol concentration level to .08 percent or more. This usually means five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women, generally within about two hours.

     Heavy drinking is defined as consuming 15 drinks or more per week for men, and eight drinks of more per week for women.

     If either of these rings true for you, keep reading.

     Many people would not meet the clinical diagnosis criteria for several alcohol use disorder, even in some of the circumstances described above. Celebrating every now and then is probably ok.

     However, signs of a severe problem may include:

     • inability to limit drinking

     • continuing to drink despite personal or professional problems

     • a need to drink more to get the same effect

     • a strong desire to drink that is so strong that a person can’t focus on anything else

     The signs listed above are clear instances in which a drinker should seek help. Drinking problems often affect relationships, school or work, social activities, and other aspects of a person’s health.

Seeking Help

     Speaking with your primary care provider is always a good place to start. They will often ask about your drinking habits, anyway, so let this be a conversation starter. The more honest you are, the more appropriately they can help.

     If you feel your concern goes beyond a regular doctor’s appointment, treatment facilities like Sedlacek Treatment Center in Cedar Rapids are great resources.

     Whether you drink a little, a lot, or not at all, it’s important to understand what alcohol can do to a person – and be able to recognize it in yourself and others. Have fun – but be safe and stay healthy.

     If you need a primary care provider, MercyCare Monticello welcomes new patients. You may call the clinic at 319-465-5937.


What is “one drink?”


“One drink” in the U.S. is equal to:

     • 12 ounces of beer

     • 8 ounces of malt liquor

     • 5 ounces of wine

     • 1.5 ounces (1 shot) of distilled spirits or liquor


People who should not drink at all:


     • Anyone younger than 21

     • Women who are or may be pregnant

     • People who plan to drive or participate in any activity requiring skill, coordination and/or alertness

     • People with certain medical conditions

     • People on certain medications

     • People who are recovering from alcoholism or are unable to control the amount they drink



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