Guidelines for Moderate Alcohol Drinking Vary Widely

The United States National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has defined moderate drinking for men as consuming no more than four drinks per day and no more than three per day for women. However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture sets the limit at two drinks per day for men and one per day for women.1 Thus, there is disagreement within the federal government as to exactly what constitutes moderate drinking.

The confusion and disagreement is compounded when looking at guidelines from country to country.

British researchers examined the official definitions of standard drinks and alcohol consumption guidelines for all 27 European Union member states and of countries from all other geographic regions of the world.

The investigators found that ”There was a remarkable lack of agreement about what constitutes harmful or excessive alcohol consumption on a daily basis, a weekly basis and when driving, with no consensus about the ratios of consumption guidelines for men and women.” Recommended limits in some countries are many times higher than in others.

The scientific research findings about the health consequences, both positive and negative, of consuming different amounts of alcohol are known around the world. The same is true of the safety consequences.

Thus, it appears that the differences in recommended guidelines are not based solely on the scientific medical evidence, but on cultural and political considerations. That is, the guidelines are highly arbitrary.

For example, Dr. Richard Smith, editor emeritus of the British Medical Journal and a member of the Royal College of Physicians committee that established the drinking guidelines for the United Kingdom in 1987, reports that the figures were not based on any clear evidence at all and "were really plucked out of the air." He said that "It was a sort of intelligent guess by a committee."2

Indeed, much research finds better health and greater longevity to be associated with drinking above the recommended guidelines published by most countries

Because of its temperance history, the United States has tended to set its guidelines for moderate consumption lower than that of many other countries. In so doing, it may be endangering the health of its citizens.

Note: This website is informational only. It makes no suggestions or recommendations about drinking guidelines, moderate drinking, abstaining from alcohol or about any other matter and none should be inferred.


  • Furtwaengler, N.A. and de Visser, R.O. Lack of consensus in low-risk drinking guidelines. Drug and Alcohol Review, 2012 (June). Available at


  • 1. International Center for Alcohol Policies (ICAP). International Drinking Guidelines. (ICAP Reports #14). December 2000, p. 8 and current issue of National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Physicians’ Guide to Helping Patients with Alcohol Problems.
  • 2. Norfolk, Andrew. How "safe drinking" experts let a bottle or two go to their heads. The recommended maximum intake was set 20 years ago by doctors who simply plucked a limit out of the air. The Sunday Times (UK), October 20, 2007.

Filed Under: Diet

This website is informational only. It makes no suggestions or recommendations about any subject.
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