If there’s one thing that tends to blur the line between friend and foe, it’s alcohol. One glass of wine can easily morph into two. Then add shots to the mix, and your casual night out gets sloppy fast.
So we had to wonder: Is it better to stay sober during the week and go all-out on the weekend or pour yourself one drink on the daily?
We hate to be killjoys, but just because you didn’t partake during the workweek doesn’t mean you’ve got a free pass to rage your face off on Friday.
In fact, there’s a lengthy list of ways heavy drinking — even if it’s confined to a single night — can wreck your health.
According to the CDC, 1 in 6 adults in the United States binge-drinks about four times a month, which means pounding four or more drinks in less than 2 hours if you’re a woman and five or more if you’re a man.
Binge-drinking isn’t just for frat brothers and sorority sisters, either. Research shows that people in the 65-and-older age group regularly binge-drink too.
You may be hitting that threshold more often than you realize. According to the CDC, one standard drink technically equals 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard (80-proof) liquor. A couple of hefty pours at happy hour can really add up fast!
Binge-drinking has a number of ill effects on your health. It boosts your risk for liver disease, high blood pressure, stroke, certain cancers, and heart disease.
After a few drinks, you’re also more likely to take a tumble or wreck your car, accidents that could prove deadly.
Drinking a lot of alcohol quickly, especially without food in your system to act as a buffer, can speed up tissue damage. Women may be at even greater risk than men, because they metabolize alcohol differently.
Since alcohol acts as a depressant, drinking a lot of it in a short time can lead to alcohol poisoning/overdose, coma, or death, explains Dessa Bergen-Cico, PhD, an associate professor of public health and addiction studies at Syracuse University.
When a person drinks more than their body can metabolize at one time, alcohol builds up in their bloodstream and suppresses vital functions like breathing and heart rate.
Binge-drinking could also lead to scary stuff like memory problems or alcohol addiction, warns Nasir H. Naqvi, MD, PhD, an assistant professor at Columbia University’s Division on Substance Abuse.
To top it off, you could end up doing stuff you wouldn’t normally do while under the influence, adds Alison Moore, MD, a professor of medicine in the division of geriatrics and psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine.
It’s not called liquid courage for nothing. Alcohol makes you more impulsive, so you may be more prone to tipsy texting, regrettable (or unsafe) hookups, and unhealthy late-night bites.
Drinking more than a moderate amount (one drink for women, one to two for men) on a daily basis isn’t good news, either. Regular, long-term drinking can have the same effects on organs like your liver and heart as bingeing does.
Sometimes a daily drinking habit can be even worse for your health than a few splurges. One study found that drinking a few days per week put people at greater risk for new onset of atrial fibrillation (a heart condition associated with stroke and heart attack) than consuming several drinks in one sitting did.
A final piece of bad news about drinking too much: Nasty hangovers are pretty much unavoidable. And their effects — including attention lapses and impaired driving — can linger into the next day, even once you’re sober.
The only proven hangover cure? Drink less.
Though there’s controversy over just how good or bad alcohol really is for you, some research points to it being more of a boon than a bummer.
That said, less is definitely more: Having one drink or half a drink fairly regularly does seem to reduce the risk for heart attack, stroke, and diabetes, says Moore.
It may up your dating game too. Having a single glass of wine (but no more) may make you appear more attractive to other people. Seriously, it’s science!
But here’s the funny part: You may not reap many of the health rewards for a few more years. “The main benefits of alcohol occur in middle age or older,” Moore says.
That’s because people in their 20s and 30s generally don’t have to deal with conditions like heart disease, stroke, and other complications that can improve from moderate alcohol intake, she explains.
For some people, including those with heart conditions, even a glass or two might be overdoing it. A recent study finds that moderate drinking — 7 to 13 glasses a week — increases the risk for high blood pressure.
Those with memory issues should pay attention too. Research shows that Brits who pounded back just a beer or two a day — 8 to 12 a week — had more shrinkage in their hippocampus, a region of the brain involved with learning and memory.
Light or moderate drinking may also be a problem for women with a significant history (whether personal or family) of breast cancer. According to one study, even one drink per day may boost a woman’s risk for the disease.
One last cause for concern: if you find yourself using your daily drink of choice as an Rx for recurring mood or anxiety issues. If you think that could be the case, see a mental health expert, Naqvi says.
Sorry, boozy brunchers and part-time party people, but going on a weekend bender is just a plain ol’ bad habit. As far as your overall wellness goes, drinking a little on a daily basis is a better bet than being good all week only to get trashed on Saturday night.
The healthiest game plan: Stick to drinking in moderation (one drink a day for women, two drinks for men) and avoid binge-drinking, Naqvi suggests.
And know yourself, adds Moore. Before popping open a bottle, consider your family health history, which drinks — or how many — tend to trigger bad behavior, and whether you’re on any meds that may have less-than-stellar alcohol interactions.