If you’ve had twelve alcoholic drinks in the past year, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) considers you a “regular drinker.” That’s right: twelve drinks in one year. If you’re a woman and you’ve had an average of more than one drink a day, the agency considers you a “heavy drinker.” (For men, it’s two drinks).
In a recent Slate review of the new movie Smashed, Jake Blumgart points out the absurdity of these CDC standards:
The agency’s definition of “heavy drinking”—an average of more than one drink a day for a woman—could make my mom, a wine-with-dinner lady, sound like Cersei Lannister. My personal experiences of doctors scolding against any overindulgence, ever—no matter the weddings, birthdays, or neighborhood dance parties—leave me feeling exasperated and not disposed to consider their opinion.
Such rigid definitions don’t seem helpful and smack of pathologizing a behavior—drinking with your friends, or even alone in moderation—that has served humanity well since our ancestors settled down for a beer and a bit of civilization. [...] Overly puritanical government and medical cautions against alcohol consumption, which contrast so markedly with the experience of many, could lead drinkers to totally blow off these recommendations.
Blumgart makes a good point. What’s the point of federal health and safety standards that few people will take seriously? When agencies like the CDC are over-cautious and over-stringent, they undermine their authority. And never mind their statistics! The CDC says 50.9% of Americans are regular drinkers—but given what the agency considers “regular,” that statistic is fairly meaningless.