Dr. Thomas Dwan - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Thomas Dwan

Is Bourbon Bad For You?



Short answer

While moderate bourbon consumption can have certain health benefits, such as potentially improving cardiovascular health and reducing diabetes risk, excessive intake can lead to negative health outcomes like liver disease, increased cancer risk, and dependency. Balance and moderation are key, and the recommended limit is up to one drink per day for women and two for men. Mindful drinking, alongside a healthy lifestyle, can allow for enjoyment of bourbon without adverse effects.



Long answer

Alcohol Content in Bourbon and Recommended Limits

The alcohol content in bourbon is expressed as a percentage of alcohol by volume (ABV). Typically, bourbon has an ABV that ranges between 40% to 50% (80 to 100 proof), but some cask strength bourbons can have higher ABV, sometimes upwards of 60% or more. The higher alcohol content can result in a more intense effect on the body, so it is critical to understand the recommended limits for alcohol consumption to minimize health risks.

Health guidelines recommend moderate alcohol consumption due to the potential health risks associated with excessive drinking. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), moderate drinking is defined as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. Here, one standard drink is equivalent to:

  • 14 grams (0.6 ounces) of pure alcohol
  • Approximately 1.5 ounces (44 milliliters) of distilled spirits or liquor, including bourbon, at 40% ABV

It's essential to note that higher ABV bourbons will mean that a smaller amount will equate to one standard drink. For example, if a bourbon is 50% ABV, one standard drink may be around 1.2 ounces (35 milliliters) instead of 1.5 ounces.

Various studies have looked into the effects of moderate alcohol consumption. Some findings suggest that moderate alcohol intake, particularly of red wine, may be linked with certain health benefits, such as a lower risk of heart disease. However, it's important to acknowledge that these studies are observational and do not prove a cause-effect relationship. Additionally, the potential benefits of moderate alcohol consumption do not outweigh the risks for many individuals, especially those with a history of alcohol abuse or specific health conditions.

Exceeding these recommended limits can lead to a range of negative health outcomes, including but not limited to:

  • Increased risk of liver disease
  • Heightened risk of certain cancers
  • Development of alcohol use disorders
  • Potential for alcohol poisoning
  • Negative impact on mental health

Furthermore, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that if one does not drink alcohol, they should not start for any potential health benefit. This is particularly crucial for individuals who may be pregnant, taking medications that interact with alcohol, or have certain medical conditions.

In conclusion, when considering if bourbon is bad for you, it is pivotal to factor in its alcohol content and adhere strictly to the recommended drinking limits to mitigate health risks. Responsible consumption is key, and individuals should consider their health status and consult with healthcare professionals if uncertain about their alcohol intake.

Caloric Intake from Bourbon Consumption

When considering the impact of bourbon on your diet, it's essential to understand its caloric content. Bourbon, like other distilled spirits, is relatively high in calories due to its alcohol content. Alcohol contains approximately 7 calories per gram, which is nearly twice as much as protein and carbohydrates, both of which have around 4 calories per gram. However, bourbon does not contain carbohydrates, fats, or proteins, which means all the calories it provides are from the alcohol itself.

The standard serving size for bourbon, which is one jigger or 1.5 fluid ounces (about 44 ml), typically contains around 97 to 105 calories. This can fluctuate slightly based on the proof of the bourbon—the higher the proof, the more alcohol it contains, and consequently, the more calories it has. Here's a breakdown:

  • 80-proof bourbon (40% alcohol by volume) - approximately 97 calories
  • 86-proof bourbon (43% alcohol by volume) - approximately 105 calories
  • 90-proof bourbon (45% alcohol by volume) - approximately 110 calories
  • 100-proof bourbon (50% alcohol by volume) - approximately 124 calories

If you enjoy your bourbon with mixers, the calorie count can increase significantly. Many popular mixers are high in sugars and can add hundreds of calories to your drink. For example:

  • A bourbon and cola can add an additional 100-150 calories per serving.
  • Mixing bourbon with sweet vermouth for a Manhattan can add about 70 calories.
  • A whiskey sour, often made with simple syrup and lemon juice, can add up to 125 calories.

It's also important to note that while these mixers add calories, they do not contribute any significant nutritional value. The addition of high-calorie mixers effectively transforms your drink from empty calories to a high-calorie beverage with added sugars, which can impact your overall caloric intake and health.

For individuals monitoring their weight or calorie intake, mindful consumption of bourbon is crucial. Regular consumption of high-calorie alcoholic beverages can contribute to weight gain and related health issues like obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. However, occasional moderate intake might not have a significant effect, particularly if you account for these calories within your daily dietary goals.

Experts generally define moderate drinking as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. Nevertheless, the caloric intake from even moderate bourbon consumption can add up over time, and should be considered in the context of an individual's overall dietary patterns and health goals.

To support dietary awareness, consider these tips:

  • Choose lower-proof bourbons to slightly reduce caloric intake.
  • Opt for simple, calorie-free mixers like water or seltzer.
  • Measure your pours to avoid unintentionally exceeding one standard drink.
  • Avoid drinking bourbon on an empty stomach, which can lead to quicker intoxication and potentially more drinking.
  • Incorporate non-drinking days into your week to reduce overall calorie consumption from alcohol.

Mindful drinking aligns with a balanced lifestyle, allowing you to enjoy bourbon's rich flavors and social aspects while managing your caloric intake effectively.

The Effect of Bourbon on Liver Health

The liver is a vital organ responsible for filtering toxins, aiding in digestion, and regulating metabolism. When discussing the impact of bourbon, or any alcohol, on liver health, it is essential to understand that moderation is key. Let's break down the ways in which bourbon affects liver health.

Alcohol Metabolism: The liver metabolizes alcohol, but it can only process a certain amount at a time. The average liver can metabolize roughly one standard drink per hour. A standard drink equals about 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits like bourbon, which is typically 40% alcohol by volume.

Short-Term Effects: In modest amounts, the liver efficiently processes alcohol, and occasional bourbon consumption is unlikely to cause harm. However, heavy or binge drinking can overwhelm the liver's ability to metabolize alcohol, leading to a buildup of acetaldehyde, a toxic metabolite that can cause cell damage.

Long-Term Effects: Chronic consumption of alcohol in high quantities can lead to a range of liver diseases, including:

  • Fatty liver disease (steatosis)
  • Alcoholic hepatitis
  • Fibrosis
  • Cirrhosis
  • Liver cancer

These conditions occur as a result of the liver's attempt to repair itself from the damage caused by the alcohol, which can lead to scarring and impaired liver function over time.

Genetic Factors: Certain individuals may have genetic predispositions that affect how their liver metabolizes alcohol, potentially increasing the risk of liver disease with alcohol consumption.

Interactions with Medications: Bourbon and other forms of alcohol can interact with medications, posing additional risks to liver health. It is crucial to consult a healthcare provider about the safety of alcohol consumption when on prescription drugs.

Recommendations from Health Organizations: Many health organizations offer guidelines for alcohol consumption. For instance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines moderate drinking as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.

Conclusion: While studies have shown that moderate alcohol consumption, including bourbon, may potentially offer some health benefits, excessive intake is detrimental to liver health.

Always remember, the best approach to maintaining liver health is to drink responsibly and within recommended limits. Always consult with a healthcare professional if you have concerns about your alcohol consumption and its impact on your liver health.


  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Alcohol Use and Your Health. CDC. Retrieved from [link to CDC's article on alcohol and health]
  • Lieber, C. S. (2003). Relationships between Nutrition, Alcohol Use, and Liver Disease. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Retrieved from [link to NIAAA's article on nutrition, alcohol and liver disease]
  • Osna, N. A., Donohue, T. M. Jr., & Kharbanda, K. K. (2017). Alcoholic Liver Disease: Pathogenesis and Current Management. Alcohol Research: Current Reviews, 38(2), 147–161. Retrieved from [link to the study on ALD pathogenesis and management]

Bourbon's Impact on Cardiovascular System

When examining the effects of bourbon on the cardiovascular system, a nuanced approach is necessary. While moderate alcohol consumption has been linked to certain protective effects, excessive drinking can contribute to a range of negative cardiovascular outcomes. This section intends to break down this complex relationship, presenting evidence from recent scientific studies and clarifications from health experts.

First, it's important to define what moderate drinking means in this context. For men, it is up to two standard drinks per day, and for women, one standard drink per day, as suggested by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. A standard drink of bourbon is typically 1.5 ounces (44 milliliters).

Positive Effects of Moderate Bourbon Consumption:

  • HDL Cholesterol: Moderate consumption of alcohol, including bourbon, is associated with increased levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or "good" cholesterol, which can protect against heart disease by helping to remove other forms of cholesterol from your bloodstream.
  • Coronary Artery Disease: Some epidemiological studies suggest that moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages may reduce the risk of developing coronary artery disease, potentially due to the beneficial effects on cholesterol profiles and anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Antioxidants: Bourbon contains antioxidants like ellagic acid, which can help combat oxidative stress and inflammation, factors known to contribute to heart disease.

Negative Effects of Excessive Bourbon Consumption:

  • Blood Pressure: Excessive consumption of bourbon can lead to an increase in blood pressure, a significant risk factor for heart attacks and strokes. Chronic drinking can also result in hypertension that might not revert to normal even with decreased alcohol intake.
  • Cardiomyopathy: Heavy alcohol use over time can weaken the heart muscle, leading to a condition known as alcoholic cardiomyopathy. This condition impairs the heart's ability to pump blood effectively, leading to heart failure.
  • Arrhythmias: High doses of alcohol, or "binge drinking," even if infrequent, can lead to abnormal heart rhythms, including atrial fibrillation, which increases the risk of stroke and heart failure.
  • Alcohol and Caloric Intake: Bourbon, like other forms of distilled spirits, is calorically dense due to its alcohol content, which can contribute to obesity and thereby, increased cardiovascular risk if not consumed in moderation.

It is paramount to consider the overall lifestyle and health profile of an individual when discussing alcohol's effects on the cardiovascular system, as factors such as genetics, diet, exercise habits, and pre-existing health conditions play substantial roles in determining risk. Above all, moderation and medical guidance remain key.

To corroborate these points, let's look at a study conducted by the Journal of the American College of Cardiology in 2017, which found that light to moderate alcohol intake is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular events, but the risk rises with greater levels of consumption. Similarly, the British Medical Journal published research in 2016 highlighting the heightened risk of arrhythmias like atrial fibrillation associated with increased alcohol intake.

Finally, we cannot overlook the psychological and behavioral factors linked to alcohol consumption. The social context in which bourbon is consumed can greatly influence drinking patterns, and subsequently, cardiovascular outcomes. Therefore, making informed decisions about alcohol intake is an essential part of maintaining cardiovascular health.

Potential Benefits of Moderate Bourbon Consumption

While the conversation about alcohol consumption often highlights the potential risks, it's crucial to acknowledge that moderate consumption of beverages like bourbon can have certain benefits. Here, we explore these potential benefits, backed by scientific research.

Cardiovascular Health

Surprisingly, moderate consumption of bourbon may have a favorable effect on cardiovascular health. According to a study published in the British Medical Journal, moderate alcohol intake is associated with a lower risk of developing heart disease compared to non-drinkers. Bourbon, which contains polyphenols and other antioxidants from the grains used in its production, may contribute to this protective effect by improving the lipid profile and acting as blood thinners to prevent clot formation.

Diabetes Risk Reduction

A meta-analysis of prospective studies, which appeared in the journal Diabetes Care, suggests that moderate alcohol consumption is linked with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. This protective effect is thought to be due to alcohol's ability to improve insulin sensitivity and reduce blood sugar levels. However, the specific impact of bourbon consumption requires further investigation.

Digestive Aid

Some experts believe that a small amount of bourbon after a meal can aid in digestion. The high alcohol content is thought to stimulate the stomach's enzymes, which helps break down food. This traditional digestif role, however, must be balanced against the potential irritant effect alcohol can have on the gastrointestinal lining.

Longevity and Mental Health

Studies, including one from the New England Journal of Medicine, indicate that moderate drinkers could have a longer lifespan than heavy drinkers or abstainers. Furthermore, social and leisurely aspects of moderate drinking, including bourbon consumption, have been linked to reductions in stress and improvements in mental well-being. Nevertheless, this does not suggest alcohol is a treatment for mental health issues, but rather a potential facet of a balanced lifestyle that may include social interaction and relaxation.

Please bear in mind that these potential benefits apply exclusively to moderate consumption, typically defined as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Excessive alcohol intake can negate any such beneficial effects and lead to serious health issues. And importantly, if you don't already drink bourbon, health professionals don't recommend starting for the sole purpose of gaining health benefits.

We must also acknowledge that individual responses to alcohol can vary greatly due to factors such as genetics, underlying health conditions, medications, and lifestyle. It is essential for individuals to consult with healthcare providers before making any changes to their alcohol consumption patterns.

Understanding the Risk of Alcohol Dependency

Alcohol dependency is a serious risk factor to consider when consuming any form of alcoholic beverage, including bourbon. This condition, commonly referred to as alcoholism or alcohol use disorder, is characterized by the body's physical dependence on alcohol and the presence of a strong, often uncontrollable, desire to drink. Let's delve into several aspects that underscore the risks linked to the consumption of bourbon.

Genetic Predisposition:

Extensive research indicates that genetic factors can play a significant role in the development of alcohol dependency. According to a study published in the journal Alcohol Research: Current Reviews, genetics account for about 50% of the risk for alcohol use disorder. Individuals with a family history of alcoholism may be more susceptible to developing a dependency, and they should exercise caution when consuming bourbon or any alcohol.

Mental Health Factors:

Mental health issues can exacerbate the risk of becoming dependent on alcohol. A co-existing mental health disorder, such as anxiety or depression, can lead individuals to self-medicate with alcohol, potentially leading to a dangerous cycle of dependency. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) suggests that individuals with a history of mental health problems should be particularly mindful of their alcohol consumption habits.

Social and Environmental Pressures:

The social environment and cultural context in which an individual consumes alcohol can also influence the risk of dependency. Peer pressure, social norms favoring drinking, and stressful lifestyles can all contribute to unhealthy drinking patterns. Initiatives that encourage responsible drinking can help mitigate these risks, but individuals must also take personal responsibility for their consumption choices.

Frequency and Quantity of Consumption:

The amount and frequency of bourbon consumed is directly correlated with the risk of alcohol dependency. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) outlines specific guidelines for moderate drinking, which is up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. Consistently exceeding these guidelines can increase the chances of developing an alcohol dependency.

Understanding the Signs of Alcohol Dependency:

Recognizing the signs of alcohol dependency is crucial for prevention and early intervention. Symptoms include a persistent desire to drink, unsuccessful efforts to cut down on drinking, withdrawal symptoms when not drinking, and continued alcohol use despite negative consequences. Awareness of these signs can prompt individuals to seek help before the condition worsens.

Importance of Professional Guidance:

Consulting with a healthcare professional if there's a concern about alcohol consumption can be a pivotal step toward avoiding dependency. Medical experts can offer personalized advice and, if necessary, refer individuals to counseling or treatment programs. Seeking help early often leads to better outcomes for those struggling with alcohol use disorder.

In conclusion, while bourbon, as a form of alcohol, can be part of a social and lifestyle choice, the associated risk of developing alcohol dependency should not be ignored. By understanding the factors that contribute to this risk and being vigilant of consumption habits, individuals can make informed decisions to drink responsibly and maintain their overall health and well-being. For those worried about their relationship with alcohol, professional help should be sought without delay.

Frequently asked questions

Yes, both positively and negatively. Moderate social drinking of bourbon may contribute to relaxations and stress reduction. However, excessive consumption can lead to negative impacts on mental health, including the development of or exacerbation of existing mental health issues. It's essential to consume bourbon within recommended guidelines.

The proof of bourbon directly affects its calorie content because higher-proof bourbon contains more alcohol and therefore more calories. Since alcohol has about 7 calories per gram, bourbons with a higher alcohol by volume (ABV) will naturally have a higher caloric value.

Bourbon contains antioxidants like ellagic acid, deriving from the grains used in its production. These antioxidants can help combat oxidative stress and inflammation, which are risk factors for many chronic diseases. However, moderate consumption is key to potentially reaping any health benefits.

To moderate bourbon intake, consider choosing lower-proof options, using calorie-free mixers, measuring your servings, integrating non-drinking days into your week, and avoiding drinking on an empty stomach to prevent rapid intoxication.

Ask a question about Bourbon and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • headache
  • drowsiness
  • impaired judgment

Possible long-term side effects

  • liver disease
  • cancer
  • alcohol use disorders
  • alcohol poisoning
  • mental health decline
  • obesity
  • type 2 diabetes
  • heart disease
  • cardiovascular problems
  • high blood pressure
  • cardiomyopathy
  • arrhythmias
  • liver cancer

Ingredients to be aware of

  • high alcohol content
  • calories from alcohol


  • improves lipid profile
  • increases hdl cholesterol
  • may lower heart disease risk
  • contains antioxidants
  • may reduce type 2 diabetes risk
  • aids digestion
  • increases longevity
  • can improve mental well-being

Healthier alternatives

  • lower-proof bourbons
  • water
  • seltzer
  • non-alcoholic beverages

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 01-22-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 01-22-2024

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