“How much can I drink” is the most common question asked about alcohol and the answer is the same as the one you would give when asked how long is a piece of string? It depends.

It depends on a huge number of things, including who you are and what your goal is for the occasion. The answer to how much can I drink to be able to safely operate a machine tomorrow is quite different to how much can I drink to protect my long term health.

Everyone is affected differently by alcohol depending on their gender, size, age, and ethnicity. Even how tired you are, the mood you are in, and any medication you’re taking can influence the way your body responds to alcohol but here are a few thought starters to help you make the decisions that are right for you when it comes to drinking alcohol:

1 or 2 drinks …. Safe & Social
  • Keep your drink count at one per hour. A single standard drink is what your body can happily process every hour.
  • Quality over quantity. It’s safer to drink small quantities regularly, than large quantities occasionally.

Did you know – 78% of New Zealanders aged 16 and over drink sociably and safely! We would love to see that in the high 90’s where kiwis spacing their drinks and having a couple of alcohol free days each week is the norm. We would all be better off if this was the case! Research actually shows that regular, light alcohol consumption increases HDL cholesterol and reduces the risk of death from cardiovascular disease.

3 or 4 drinks ….Think about tomorrow
  • Make the party last with some good food and a few non-alcoholic or low alcohol drinks. Master a great mocktail recipe, become the queen/king of the spritzer, and know what low-alcohol beers you like.
  • By drinking less on an occasion you reduce your risk of having some sort of accident. By drinking less over time, you can also help reduce your risk of negative health impacts.

Did you know –  Women who drink have an increased risk of developing breast cancer and, men and woman drinkers have an increased risk of developing cancer of the oesophagus. On a more positive note, there’s also growing research to suggest that light to moderate drinking is associated with reduced risk of dementia.

5 or 6 drinks ….Where are those drinks taking you?
  • Once you’ve had a few you’re less likely to make good decisions. Think about how you want your night to shape up, and what you’ve got on the next day, before you start drinking and stick to your plan.
  • At 6+ drinks you’d be losing count! If you’ve crammed this amount then its time to take a break, drink some water and track down some decent food.

Did you know –  If your body can’t keep up with your drinking then it’ll start to freak out, serving you curve balls such as smelly odours, bloodshot eyes, blurred vision and slurred speech. Also if you can’t recall your previous night’s drinking then you may have suffered an alcohol-induced ‘grey-out’. This is when you’re awake but out of control – as close as you’ll get to being an actual zombie and possibly just one step from the grave.


Drink size & pace aside there are some other important factors that you need to consider when it comes to drinking safely and sociably:

Size counts

If you’re drinking next to someone larger than you, the same amount of alcohol will probably affect you more because you’ve got less body tissue to absorb it. People with more fat in their body also take longer to process alcohol because fat isn’t water soluble, so it’s slow to absorb alcohol.

Age matters

Your body’s ability to process alcohol decreases with age. This is because your body’s water content decreases, which means there’s a higher concentration of alcohol in your blood.

Women get by with less

Drink for drink, women end up with more alcohol in their blood than men. This is because women are generally smaller than men, have  proportionately less body water and more body fat (which is slow to absorb alcohol).

Where are you from?

People of European descent produce more ADH, the enzyme that metabolizes alcohol, than people of other ethnicities. So if you’re not of European
descent, you’ll feel the effects of alcohol more than someone who is.


You can download all this info on our handy 1-page ‘How Much Can I Drink’ infographic here.

Regardless of who you are, your age or your life story the two best things you can do to make sure you stay sociable and safe while you’re drinking is stick to the one-an-hour rule, and slow down or stop if you start saying and doing things you wouldn’t normally do.

To find out more about alcohol and how it affects your body & mind, check out our website and have a read of our “What’s going on inside when you drink” article. You may also be interested in testing out our Standard Drink Calculator.

Alcohol&Me Team