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My Coast Guard
Commentary | May 25, 2023

0-1-2-3: What are the low-risk drinking guidelines?

By AJ Pulkkinen, MyCG Writer 

In previous MyCG articles, we’ve talked about the long-term health consequences of your relationship with alcohol. Now, let’s get back to basics. What’s the big deal with the occasional binge drinking session?  

The word “alcohol” often conjures up positive feelings and associations with fun, socializing, relaxing, and partying. The stimulant effects start with the first drink or two: elevated heart rate, energized feeling and increased sociability.  

Risky levels of consumption can create the exact opposite effects: distress, anxiety, loneliness, pain and depressive symptoms – plus a greater craving for more alcohol. This is the “dark side” of alcohol intake, and they start after you go beyond low-risk drinking guidelines.  

To make safer decisions, use the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s Low-Risk Drinking Guidelines: 

  • ZERO – Sometimes, zero drinks is the only low-risk option. Use this guideline when you are driving, using machinery, cleaning a weapon, pregnant, on duty, or on certain medications 
  • ONE - consume no more than one standard * drink per hour 
  • TWO - consume no more than two standard * drinks per occasion 
  • THREE - never exceed three standard drinks per occasion. 

(*a standard drink is typically 14 grams of pure alcohol, 12 ounces of regular beer, or about 5 ounces of wine.) 

Beyond these guidelines, you’re in dangerous territory – often referred to as binging or risky drinking. That’s the point where studies document changes in your brain’s amygdala (the ‘control room’ for your emotions). In other words, heavy drinking literally changes how your brain works and how you process emotions.  

Bottom line: the more alcohol you consume, the more you’re risking negative impacts on your body and mind.  

In the News: 

Take a guess: What kills more people every year than opioids? 

Is it time to explore your relationship with alcohol? > United States Coast Guard > My Coast Guard News ( 


NIAAA Article Alcohol’s Negative Emotional Side