Individual drinking limits

Well Now

Health Enhancement Services

It is common to encourage students to “stay within your limit” when giving advice about drinking. “But, what’s the limit?” they ask.

There are health limits of all sorts. There is a speed limit for safe driving, a target pulse limit for safe exercising, a cholesterol limit for safe eating and even a radiation limit for safe nuking. Why is the limit for safe drinking left up to the drinker? Is there no objective data to suggest a safe drinking limit?

A thorough review of the alcohol research literature produces two similar answers. A safe limit for alcohol consumption by healthy people is:

Not more than two to three drinks in any one day.

Most medical literature as well as research conducted by the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, suggests that drinking two to three drinks daily does not significantly impair one’s health.

A “drink” is defined as either a five ounce glass of wine, a can of beer, a mixed drink or 1.5 shots of liquor.

“Two to three drinks daily” is an absolute figure not an average. That means you cannot drink seven beers Friday and nine Saturday then abstain from drinking all week and still meet this criteria.

At any party or drinking “event”, the drinker’s blood alcohol level does not exceed .05 percent.

Blood alcohol level (BAL) is the objective measurement of how much alcohol is available in the blood to effect the brain. BAL is universally used as a measure of intoxication. (It is what the police measure with the breathalizer when someone is stopped for driving under the influence of alcohol.)

At BAL below .05 percent, a person is not considered intoxicated or impaired. Most people have no idea what BAL .05 percent means as far as their own drinking behavior. The following is a formula to translate BAL .05 percent into number of safe drinks:

A 150 pound person who parties for four hours can drink five beers and stay within his limit.


For pregnant women, alcoholics and people who are ill or on medication, alcohol use might always be dangerous.

Drinking on an empty stomach, gulping drinks and other factors might lower your safe drink limit.

This week has been declared “National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week” and NIU will be an active participant. The goal of the week is to educate students about alcohol and reduce alcohol problems on campus. For more information call Health Enhancement Services at 753-1834.