When it comes to wine, spreading your intake across the week rather is safer than binging it all in one night. Researchers have found having one glass every night, rather than seven in one go, makes people far less likely to become an alcoholic or misuse booze.
The study followed 1,000 Americans aged 30 and above for nine years.
Dr Charles Holahan, study leader and a psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said not all units of alcohol consumed are equal.
‘What this means is that an individual whose total consumption is seven drinks on Saturday night presents a greater risk profile than someone whose total consumption is a daily drink with dinner, even though their average drinking level is the same,’ he said.
The NHS recommends men and women not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week — around six pints of beer or 10 small glasses of wine.
But it cautions against having more than five units in one go — three beers or half a bottle of wine.
US experts, who studied more than 1,000 Americans aged 30 and older, found that those who have five or more drinks at once rather than one per day are five times more likely to suffer multiple health problems
How much alcohol is too much?
To keep health risks from alcohol to a low level, the NHS advises men and women not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week.
A unit of alcohol is 8g or 10ml of pure alcohol, which is about:
half a pint of lower to normal-strength lager/beer/cider (ABV 3.6%)
a single small shot measure (25ml) of spirits (25ml, ABV 40%)
A small glass (125ml, ABV 12%) of wine contains about 1.5 units of alcohol.
But the NHS warns the risk to your health is increased by drinking any amount of alcohol on a regular basis.
Short-term risks include injury, violent behaviour and alcohol poisoning.
Long-term risks include heart and liver disease, strokes, as well as liver, bowel, moth and breast cancer.
People who drink as much as 14 units a week are advised to spread it evenly over three or more days, rather than binge drinking.
Women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant are advised not to drink to reduce risks for the baby.
The team in Texas said the pattern of when these drinks are consumed — such as all on one day or spread across the week — is overlooked in research, which masks the dangers of binge drinking.
To better understand moderate drinking habits and their impacts, the researchers examined two questionnaires completed by 1,229 moderate drinkers, nine years apart.
Moderate drinking was defined as no more than one drink a day for women and two drinks daily for men, on average.
But the researchers did not specify what type of alcohol counted as one drink.
People were classed as having alcohol problems if they drank alcohol to the extent that they were are at risk of injury or emotional or psychological problems.
Alcohol problems also included those with a desire to drink alcohol that individuals could not resist, having to drink more alcohol to get the same effect and drinking much more than intended.
The results, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, showed drinkers who binged were twice as likely to be suffering alcohol problems by the end of the nine-year study compared to those who drank the same amount but spaced it over the week.
Dr Holahan said: ‘Much binge drinking among adults escapes public health scrutiny because it occurs among individuals who drink at a moderate average level.
‘These findings point to a need for alcohol interventions targeting moderate average level drinkers in addition to conventional strategies focusing on the higher risk, but smaller, population of habitually high-level drinkers.’
Dr Rudolf Moos, study co-author and an emeritus professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine, said: ‘In both scientific and media discussions of moderate drinking, the pattern of drinking is generally overlooked.
‘This leaves many drinkers mistakenly assuming that a moderate average level of consumption is safe, regardless of drinking pattern.’