Guidelines for Alcohol Drinking in Moderation Vary Widely

The official guidelines for alcohol drinking are confusing. The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has defined moderate drinking. For men, it’s no more than four drinks on any day. The maximum is 14 per week. For women, it’s no more than three on any day. The maximum is seven per week.

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.

Researchers examined official national alcohol consumption guidelines. They did so for all 27 European Union member states. And also for countries from all other geographic regions of the world.

Lack of Agreement

The investigators reported “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.” Limits in some countries are many times higher than in others.

The scientific findings about the health consequences of consuming different amounts of alcohol are widely known. And the same is true of the safety consequences.

Not Based on Science

guidelines for alcoholThe differences in guidelines are not based on the scientific medical evidence. Cultural and political considerations cause the differences. Thus, the guidelines are highly arbitrary.

For example, Dr. Richard Smith was a member of the committee that established the drinking guidelines for the U.K. He reports that the figures were not based on any clear evidence at all. In reality, they “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 from drinking above the recommended guidelines published by most countries

Because of its temperance history, the U.S set its guidelines for moderate consumption lower than that of many other countries. Thus, it may be endangering the health of its citizens.


Furtwaengler, N.A. and de Visser, R.O. Lack of consensus in low-risk drinking guidelines. Drug Alco Rev, 2013, 32(1):11-8.

References: Guidelines for Alcohol

1. International Center for Alcohol Policies (ICAP). International Drinking Guidelines. ICAP Reports #14, p. 8. Also current issue of National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Physicians’ Guide to Helping Patients with Alcohol Problems.

2. Norfolk, A. How “safe drinking” experts let a bottle or two go to their heads. Doctors set the recommended maximum intake 20 years ago. They simply plucked a limit out of the air. The Sunday Times (UK), Oct 20, 2007.

Note: This website is informational only. So it makes no suggestions about guidelines for alcohol drinking or any other matter.