What is Heavy Drinking?

Update June 28, 2010

Here is a video I posted to get a visual.

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Heavy DrinkingClinically, health care providers consider heavy drinking to be more than 2 drinks a day totaling 14 or more drinks per week. But what is a drink? In general one drink is one 5oz glass of wine 1oz of liquor or 12oz of beer. Heavy alcohol use can have serious health consequences.

Let’s look at Larry

Larry comes to see me because he has been depressed and wants to take medication. As usual, I get new patient bloodwork and see that Larry has elevated liver enzymes indicating liver inflammation. When I see this, I usually think alcohol or overuse of Tylenol products.

When I first saw Larry he told me he drank 1-2 glasses of wine with dinner. With further questioning, he admits that he consistently drinks 2 glasses of wine each night. When I ask for details, he tells me his “glass” is a 10oz beverage glass that his wife calls his chalice.

So Larry was really having the equivalent of 4 drinks a night. Larry did not want to switch to a smaller glass as he felt the use of his special glass was part of his evening ritual. He reluctantly cut back to one glass that he filled to the lip, then he slurped down to a level that allowed him to pick it up without spilling. Clearly Larry is trying to maximize his one glass, but at least it’s one.

Larry was also concerned about a chronic cough he has had for months and was afraid it was cancer. I suggested he see his internist for a medical work up.

Months later…
Larry’s liver enzymes return to normal. His chronic cough turned out to be a combination of gastric reflux and allergies. He was told to reduce his alcohol intake to help with the reflux. He cut back by filling the chalice to ¾ full and skipping a night here and there. After several weeks his cough nearly diminished.

Larry does not refer to a specific person, but real situations I have seen many times. He illustrates how people can unknowingly consume heavy quantities of alcohol putting themselves at risk to develop medical problems.

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