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Do you have a drinking problem?

Alternative Names

Alcohol use disorder - drinking problem; Alcohol abuse - drinking problem; Alcoholism - drinking problem; Alcohol dependence - drinking problem; Alcohol addiction - drinking problem

Description

Many people with alcohol problems cannot tell when their drinking is out of control. It is important to be aware of how much you are drinking. You should also know how your alcohol use may affect your life and those around you.

One drink equals one 12-ounce can or bottle of beer, one 5-ounce glass of wine, 1 wine cooler, 1 cocktail, or 1 shot of hard liquor. Think about:

  • How often you have an alcoholic drink
  • How many drinks you have when you do drink
  • How any drinking you are doing affects your life or the lives of others

Responsible Drinking

Here are some guidelines for drinking alcohol responsibly, as long as you do not have a drinking problem.

Healthy men up to age 65 should limit themselves to:

  • No more than 4 drinks in 1 day
  • No more than 14 drinks in a week

Healthy women up to age 65 should limit themselves to:

  • No more than 3 drinks in 1 day
  • No more than 7 drinks in a week

Healthy women of all ages and healthy men over age 65 should limit themselves to:

  • No more than 3 drinks in 1 day
  • No more than 7 drinks in a week

When You Start to Drink Too Much

Health care providers consider your drinking medically unsafe when you drink:

  • Many times a month, or even many times a week
  • 3 to 4 drinks (or more) in 1 day
  • 5 or more drinks on one occasion monthly, or even weekly

Knowing When You Have a Drinking Problem

You may have a drinking problem if you have at least 2 of the following characteristics:

  • There are times when you drink more or longer than you planned to.
  • You have not been able to cut down or stop drinking on your own, even though you have tried or you want to.
  • You spend a lot of time drinking, being sick from drinking, or getting over the effects of drinking.
  • Your urge to drink is so strong, you cannot think about anything else.
  • As a result of drinking, you do not do what you are expected to do at home, work, or school. Or, you keep getting sick because of drinking.
  • You continue to drink, even though alcohol is causing problems with your family or friends.
  • You spend less time on or no longer take part in activities that used to be important or that you enjoyed. Instead, you use that time to drink.
  • Your drinking has led to sitatuions that you or someone else could have been injured, such as driving while drunk or having unsafe sex.
  • Your drinking makes you anxious, depressed, forgetful, or causes other health problems, but you keep drinking.
  • You need to drink more than you did to get the same effect from alcohol. Or, the number of drinks you are used to having now have less effect than before.
  • When the effects of alcohol wear off, you have symptoms of withdrawal. These include, tremors, sweating, nausea, or insomnia. You may even have had a seizure or hallucinations (sensing things that are not there).

When to Call The Doctor

If you or others are concerned, make an appointment with your doctor to talk about your drinking. Your doctor can help guide you to the best treatment.

Other resources include:

References

American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. 5th ed. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing. 2013.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol use disorder: a comparison between DSM-IV and DSM-5. July 2015 pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/dsmfactsheet/dsmfact.htm. Accessed on January 9, 2016.

O'Connor PG. Alcohol use disorders. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 33.

Sherin K, Seikel S, Hale S. Alcohol use disorders. In: Rakel RE, Rakel DP, eds. Textbook of Family Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 48.


Review Date: 1/10/2016
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA.
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